Finding Friends: A Case For Electives
November 20, 2013

Finding Friends: A Case For Electives

Yeah, Yeah. We have all heard the cliché “Birds of a feather flock together” in reference to high school cliques and groups. For a long time, the thought has been that teenagers choose friends based on cliquish factors like nerd, freak, or jock; however, redOrbit recently reported that it is far more complex than that and, frankly, more inspiring.

According to research led by Michigan State University (MSU) professor Kenneth Frank in conjunction with Chandra Miller of the University of Texas and Anna Mueller of the University of Memphis, “the research, funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, points to the fact that strong high school friendships are more directly affected by the courses students take than by their self- or group-identified status in the traditional cliques like the geeks, freaks, goths and jocks.” So, that means that the elective classes teenagers enroll in impact their sphere of friends.

To find these results, the researchers analyzed 3,000 high school students’ academic transcripts and survey data. Then the data went into a computer algorithm and software to identify the connections between sets of students, courses, and friendship groups.

They found that students made their friendships not in the core classes that everyone had to take nor via status but in the elective courses (you know, like art, drama, creative writing, foreign languages, and all those courses that schools cut in a budget “crisis”). These elective courses tend to be smaller and lend to an atmosphere that better fosters burgeoning friendships. Plus, students enroll in elective courses because they are interested in them thus they have that shared connection.

The fact that they share interests may lead to the possibility of friendship. Moreover, they found that it could also lead to a boost in academic effort. As the article states, “An interesting find centered on female students and their academic path through high school. The team notes girls are much more likely to take more demanding math classes if other girls in their shared classes whom they befriended took advanced math.” So, they encourage each other to take more challenging courses and create cohorts to help each other succeed.

This study and article started me thinking about my own high school experience and my group of friends. My very bestest friend I met in Spanish and speech and drama class. We first built a relationship on learning the language and then speaking to each other with it and then on our interest in debate and plays. From there, our friendship blossomed. Still today we are in contact and connected despite the fact that we live 2,000 miles a part.

Moreover, we took honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes together. We created a transcript that allowed us both to attend our individual colleges with academic scholarships. Plus, we were ahead of many of our freshmen classmates because we challenged ourselves in AP English, biology, and history. Until redOrbit’s article, I had never thought how crucial our elective courses were in both our friendship and our academic successes.

I have long been against cutting elective courses. Partially, this is because my degrees and part of what I teach in college would be considered elective. I studied creative writing, and I teach literature and creative writing courses along with English composition. I believe in the importance of the arts, of electives, because education is not just about the core classes. Education is also about fostering creativity. What this MSU study says to me is that creativity leads to friendship, academic success, and all the good things that education should provide. This is definitely a case in favor of electives.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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