Time Wasted In School Part 3: Electives

Now that we’ve cut away all the trimmings of public school, we can now get to the meat—the actual classes. In public school, you have the four core classes: Math, English, Science, and History. On top of these four, a foreign language—usually Spanish—is often taken, along with two other electives.
I usually avoided electives, as they were deemed too wasteful by my parents and me; however, there were a few electives that we thought would be beneficial, such as Public Speaking and ACT/SAT prep. Looking back, I didn’t receive much benefit from these classes, and there was a lot of time wasted. In fact, the reason many of my peers gave for taking these two classes was that they were looking for easy electives which required little attention and came with a light homework load.

In the whole semester I took Public speaking, I only had to give three real speeches. There were a total of five “speeches,” but I don’t count the other two. One speech involved reading a children’s book aloud to the class, which, in addition to making me feel pretty foolish for reading such a book to a bunch of teenagers, didn’t seem like public speaking to me. I already knew how to read a children’s book. I wanted to learn public speaking, you know, like standing up and having to give a speech in front of a lot of people. The other speech I didn’t count was our end-of-the-year project, where we had to give a “how-to” speech with a partner. I ended up showing how to make and decorate a gingerbread house since it was close to Christmas. All I did for that was talk about what I was doing and mention some interesting facts I researched about candy and gingerbread house-making which I’ve long since forgotten.
Not only was the instruction lacking, there were also many times where the teacher would finish teaching early, and then we would talk amongst ourselves for the last 15 minutes of class (which is a whole THIRD of the class time). Pretty much every day we would line up at the door five minutes before the bell rang, and the teacher would often have to tell us to be quiet because other classes were “still learning”. Most of our time was spent not learning how to speak publicly, but researching on our own the information we would need in order to give our “speeches”.
Another rather pointless and wasteful aspect of that class was all the time we spent learning common sense “conflict management”. Perhaps it was necessary to teach such things, since kids are not learning how to act and respect others at home, but this was not public speaking. We were not learning how to articulately deliver a message to a crowd of people in an oral format. Learning about aggressive and passive aggressive behavior did not help me improve my public speaking, which is what I wanted from a “Public Speaking” class. For the three or so weeks we studied this material, it was basically a sociology class, not a public speaking class.

Indeed, in all of my classes, teaching would have to be interrupted so a teacher could share some nugget of wisdom about how to behave like a respectful human being should. There was a big paper bucket hanging on the wall of my public speaking classroom, and our teacher explained to us that it’s never right to “dip into someone else bucket to fill your own,” the point being not to insult others to make yourself feel better. A valid point, yes, but why is she having to teach this to 17 and 18-year-olds, and why the juvenile illustration? 

I was often thinking to myself, “Are we in kindergarten?” However, this childish metaphor was not unique to just my Junior-year public speaking class. In fact, this was a trend I had noticed going all the way back to middle school. The older you became, the more the teachers treated you like children. My 4th grade teacher was actually the only one who really treated her students like adults, often telling us we needed to grow up because the teachers in middle school won’t “baby” us. It turns out just the opposite was true. In middle school, and even into the late years of high school, teachers treat students like children. Apparently the youth are experiencing a regress of maturity, or maybe that lack of maturity is being fostered by adults.
The result of seeing high school students as children who need to be taught how to act was a plethora of conversations and ridiculous messages about how to behave, all of which, take time away from academic instruction. I felt my intelligence being insulted rather frequently, while my peers just thought it was hilarious, and were all too happy about the low expectations.
In my ACT/SAT class, we spent a lot of time learning vocab—most of which I already knew—and played silly games, like one to help us memorize all of our prepositions (which two years before, my Freshman English teacher made us sing a song and do a dance to in order to remember all of our prepositions. Yet another example of how high school students are treated like children.) The name of the class was also a misnomer. All the studying we did was for the ACT, not the SAT. Even after that class, I didn’t make much progress on my ACT scores. My scores didn’t improve until after I left the public school and studied on my own. Overall, my ACT class was a disappointment, and a waste of time.
There were many other electives. Another one that was popular because of the lack of homework was Global Gourmet. Still, there were other classes such as Computer Basics, where you learned typing skills and other “basics”. Then there was “Shop Class”, where you used table saws and whatnot to make things out of wood. You were also required to take two years of Gym Class to graduate (which seemed rather pointless to me since I was on both the school football and basketball teams). Health Class, or “Sex Ed” as it was commonly referred, was also required. 

I didn’t take any of these classes, or any of the other electives, so I can’t say how much time was wasted in them, but the teaching of many of these topics in an institutional setting seems rather wasteful.  All the necessary knowledge could easily be learned better on your own if you were really that fascinated.

While you may pick up a few interesting facts and valuable info, electives are largely a waste of time in the high school setting. While one could make the argument that students are wasting two whole periods every semester, I will not factor in the wastefulness of electives into my estimation, since I’m counting all of the time spent being given instruction, and electives technically fall into that category.

However, there is still a lot of time during electives that is not spent on academic instruction. All totaled, probably about half of electives do not involve being taught, but doing something on your own (or simply wasting time, as is most common). For this reason, I will subtract half of each elective class from our estimate, which amounts to about 45 minutes.
Thus, our total time spent on academic instruction in public school is now down to 4 hours and 15 minutes.
Click here for part 4, where I examine the heart of public school: the four core classes and foreign language.   


  1. Whoa. 4 hours and fifteen minutes is not a lot of time. I always thought I spent less time learning than my public schooled peers. But if this post is accurate, then I actually spend more time learning than they do…

    I need some kind of code word I can say that means “Great post; thanks for posting; looking forward to next post” because I feel the need to say that so often.

  2. I used to wish that I could spend only one day in public school just to see what it was like.
    After reading this, I never want to experience it.

    Thank you for giving a ‘bird’s eye view’ of the public school schedule.

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