As a college preparatory school, Oxford Academy promises its students an education and community that, according to its published vision statement, “nurtures the holistic growth of life-long learners who will lead and serve an evolving […] society.”
However, by presenting the liberal arts as inferior and nonviable when compared to STEM, Oxford’s academic requirements inhibit its execution of that vision.
While Oxford’s existing pathway system does allow students to explore areas they may have interest in, it can be more stifling than eye-opening. The California Department of Education identifies 15 career pathways in their career technical education curriculum, each with their own set of subsections that range from information technology to entertainment and fashion. In contrast, Oxford offers courses in four pathways; engineering, biomedical science, computer science and business; students are required to take three consecutive courses in a single pathway.
Implementing courses for all 15 pathways outlined by state CTE is obviously impractical, especially given Oxford’s small size of around 200 students per grade. But if three of the four programs developed at Oxford are part of STEM, then the students are only exposed to a fraction of their unlimited career opportunities.
Not only does the current system exclude almost all recognized career clusters, but it also forces students to commit to either STEM or business for almost all of the high school — thereby invalidating the humanities and arts as viable careers.
Granted, by no means does Oxford single-handedly deter students from the liberal arts or dictate what they will decide to pursue after high school. Because of the increasing relevance of technology, humanities and art careers have naturally lost their high salaries and esteem to STEM industries.
For instance, as reported by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the median starting salaries for non-STEM majors are almost $20,000 lower than for computer science and engineering students. In response to those lower salaries and a misconceived shortage of employment, state politicians across the country have suggested defunding non-STEM majors.
Indifference to the liberal arts is exacerbated by Oxford students’ cultural backgrounds; while every household varies. Asian Americans, who constitute more than two-thirds of the student body, tend to be more pressured by their parents to pursue a restricted, albeit practical, version of success. According to The Guardian in 2014, Asian parents will often teach their children to pursue the least risky occupation because of their cultural interpretation of achievement.
Instead of reinforcing the misconception that the liberal arts are unnecessary or underpaid, however, Oxford should actively combat it. Many components of engaged citizenship and employment require a self-awareness best developed through a humanities education.
To illustrate, former Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust cites the liberal arts as fundamental to the critical thinking required of introspective individuals and effective leaders. LinkedIn’s research on candidates desired by employers also reveals a demand for the skills fostered by the liberal arts — especially creativity, persuasion and people management.
As a result, the pathway system needs to undergo improvements that would broaden the requirements of an eligible course and ease the restrictions on the program. Developing additional pathways with new courses, or even just consolidating existing electives, could encourage students to view non-STEM subjects as an attainable future.
For instance, a general social sciences pathway could include courses such as AP Psychology and AP Micro and Macroeconomics, and visual and performing arts classes could be considered pathways for students who want to pursue the arts.
Oxford’s vision statement requires the school to support all students in their search for a passion that makes them satisfied, fulfilled, and best equipped to “lead and serve.” For an optimized student body that can thrive beyond high school, Oxford’s pathway system needs to convey the value and importance of the liberal arts.