Pick Your Poison

The Perils of House Bill 5

Hannah Webb, Staff Writer

In 2013, the Texas legislature passed the infamous House Bill 5. For those of you who haven’t figured it out by now, the bill essentially changed the state of Texas’s graduation requirements to one that requires 22 credits along with the completion of “endorsement” requirements in specific fields of study: STEM, business and industry, public service, arts and humanities, and multidisciplinary studies.

With the state level changes, Keller ISD responded with their own myriad of district-level alterations in the form of the iGraduate program. The program was glorified by Keller ISD, marketed as an innovative way of credit-acquiring that allowed students to “individualize their education.” It was spoken of as an exciting opportunity that would allow students to determine what career path they would pursue in life.

What the program really is, however, is a decision forced on students by adults that generalize all students into one category: procrastinators who, unless directed, will have no motivation to ever figure out what they want to do in life. In eighth grade, as the first class of high school students to be affected by the program, I was told that I needed to choose what career path I might want to pursue, so that I could take high school classes to get ahead in my studies of my chosen field.

While I do believe the district and state had good intentions with these changes, I do not believe they went about implementing them in the right way. You may be wondering, and rightfully so, “Hannah, why are you writing about this three years after the program affected you?”

And that’s where the faultiness these “early decision-making” initiatives comes in. Eighth grade Hannah wanted to be one of two things: an author or an architect. (As you can see, I had my options extremely narrowed down.) I wanted to be an author because I enjoyed writing, and I wanted to be an architect because I had seen lots of house designs that I thought were “cool” and “modern.”

I had absolutely no sense of what was required of these career paths, and even less of a sense of the work-life balance or pay that these jobs would provide. I didn’t know what kind of life I even wished to have at only thirteen.

Now, at 17 years old and a junior in high school, I have much more of a sense of what I want from life, who I am, and what I want to make of myself. I’ve narrowed my career options down to biochemistry or law, two completely different areas of study than the ones I thought I wanted to be involved with in eighth grade. I do still enjoy writing; however, I now only want to pursue it as a hobby, and I enjoy journalistic writing much more than I do fiction.

As a result of programs that forced me to pick an option without even thinking about it (at 13, keep in mind), not only did I feel shut into a box of only two options and limited by my eighth grade choices, I also had to take classes that I later discovered were a complete waste of my time because I no longer wanted to pursue them.

So the answer to your question is that I am writing about this three years later because only recently have I realized exactly what it is I want to do, and how utterly pointless this program was for me.

As I mentioned, the program works on the assumption that all students are not motivated enough to choose a career path on their own time. The truth is, however, that it takes time to make these decisions and many students (myself included) don’t have a realization about what they want to do until tenth, eleventh, or even twelfth grade (heck, I know people who didn’t realize what they really wanted to pursue until after they got to college).

While some may make the argument that the program helped me narrow down my decision in career paths, I didn’t make this determination because of the iGraduate program at all. I was able to decide because I took classes that are required by high schools across the nation. I took Pre-AP Chemistry and Biology and discovered that I had a love and talent for science that had gone previously undiscovered.

My decision wasn’t based at all off of the program that forced me to choose an endorsement. I didn’t even choose the STEM endorsement, I chose Business and Industry, and will now be graduating with more pathway requirements fulfilled in the STEM pathway than in the Business pathway.

What’s more, the program may even drive students away from the careers that they actually want to pursue or those that may be beneficial to them due to peer pressure. Especially at the middle school age, students have a tendency to listen to what is important to their peers more than they listen to themselves.

The point of House Bill 5 is to encourage students to choose career paths that are fit for them, but making students choose what they want to pursue in college in eighth grade is neither an efficient nor successful way to accomplish that goal. Students either seem to have an indifferent or negative opinion of the program, with very few positives scattered in between. The program simply forces students to pick their poison, not their career choice.