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Honors Freshman and Regular English: One Flawed Decision, One Glaring Issue

written by T.L.

Even at a high school level, standard English classes aren’t particularly difficult. Reading basic books, understanding plot, writing surface-level papers in a stylistically boring format solely to please the teacher, the whole caboodle. It’s neither challenging nor intense, screwing over anyone who might try to make the leap to Honors English and AP Lang after having experienced it even one year.

 

Currently, there are four sections for Honors Freshman English. The class, taught by Mrs. Richey, is a student’s first real experience to the “real world” of high school English. Grading is far more difficult than the regular English classes, competition is rampant, essay grades aren’t friendly, and few get the grades they really desire without tangible effort. A first exposure to a “real” English class, many students are left scarred and unwilling to continue down the path.

Sophomore Honors English sees a decreased number of sections, with three classes split among two teachers compared to the four from freshman year. Compared to Freshman Honors, the distribution of grades is far more normal– A’s are few, while the majority of students get B’s. However, students quickly realize that the valuable knowledge gained from the classes matters far more than a letter grade. Unfortunately, this information is relayed too late – those who would benefit most from a difficult Honors English class are the very people who chose to leave when things got rough, and they’re not coming back.

 

Now, the problem lies here. The insight gained from Sophomore Honors is effective, but it largely misses the target audience. The students who avoid another difficult English class because of their failure to meet unreasonable expectations need this insight more than ever, and neither Freshman English nor any regular English class effectively conveys it to them. It’s not even necessarily true that expecting an A in an Honors English is unreasonable, because it isn’t; and with substantial effort and a willingness to learn, many have accomplished such a feat. However, the grade ultimately doesn’t matter as much as this fearful freshman may think. More important is the growth in one’s analytical ability, the honing of one’s writing craft – but few realize this. Freshman English tries to instill a focus on learning over the grade, but it isn’t enough.

 

Next, the regular English class that this poor freshman chooses in sophomore year. These classes are unnaturally, unreasonably easy. To put things in perspective, essays that would get C’s and D’s in Honors English classes get A’s here, and students learn nothing from the process. Coming from an Honors English class, regular English is a pleasant surprise for those who don’t care and a boring burden for those who do. But regardless of whether the student cares or not, they’ll find themselves simply unable to take the leap into AP Language. A class this easy spoils its students; kids who would prosper in AP Lang, who want desperately to take AP Lang, who recognize the effect it would have on their ability with the language – these kids simply can’t take the class. Few are driven to sign up in the first place, and even fewer survive more than one quarter of it. This is the curse of regular English at Foothill: once you go down that track, you’re giving up any chance of going back.

 

Honors Junior English is a desperate attempt by the admins to break this trend. Teachers and administrators hope each year that some students who went to regular will try to return, to try to ease back in and go to AP Literature in senior year. Unfortunately, not enough sign up, and the class itself is pretty low-profile as it is. Right now, this is one of the glaring problems with Foothill. A toxic, competitive attitude manifests itself right from the start of a student’s journey in high school, emphasizing the necessity of A’s at whatever cost. And in avoiding any possibility of a lower grade, students deprive themselves of a chance to pick what matters more to them: a letter that stays for mere months, or a skill that stays for a lifetime.