Why do subject hierarchies still exist in school?

Subjects have status, just as much as students do. 

Why are some subjects like maths and science considered “more important” than graphic design and P.E? 

If you want to drop the latter, so be it. But as soon as a student doesn’t want to study maths anymore, there’s pleading by the teachers to reconsider and exudes a certain stigma.

These questions have arisen sporadically in my brain, since consuming A LOT of Sir Ken Robinson’s work. His main contention, is that creativity is not being properly cultivated in school, despite being ESSENTIAL for success later on in life. 

He also postulates, that creativity is not limited to the arts, and instead, also applies to maths or chemistry for example. It simply means using our imagination to create something. 

Importantly, he argues that there’s a hierarchy in our curriculum. We have STEM and language dominating our curriculum, while arts trail significantly behind. And even within the arts, we have a contrast between the importance of music vs dance. 

But where does this hierarchy even come from? 

Let’s go back to the birth time of our education system. 

In the industrial revolution (~1780-1830), we had factories popping up everywhere, creating the boom in mass production.

That meant we needed compliant workers to do repetitive, standardised work and make the system run smoothly. (I’ll talk more about this on a different post). 

In America for example, they had the ‘Committee of ten’. A group of men from the ‘National Education Association’ who advocated for standardised education.  

Besides recommending certain policies, they also emphasised the importance of the languages, maths and sciences. 

That curriculum has largely stayed the same till this day. 

… So then, what’s the problem? 

The problem is nowadays, the hierarchy of subjects set in the past are forcing students to choose subjects over others. 

In high school, there was a classmate who didn’t want to continue maths, but was urged to by the department. 

Side note: Like with any subject, maths is important and useful… but let’s reserve it to students who actually like it. Because frankly, if it’s unrelated to your career or interests, life does not require understanding hyperbolas and complex equations (I’m speaking from experience). 

So why?

Why should a student choose to spend gruelling hours studying something they don’t want to? 

Society’s demands are changing. So should we. 

No subject is subjectively better than another, it simply depends on the student and what they find engaging and interesting. The student gets to choose, and we shouldn’t let judgement from the hierarchal subject system cloud their choices. 

Suggestions: Maybe we incorporate subjects like leadership or emotional intelligence. Things that are absolutely necessary in the future.

Or just make the system more individualised instead of standardised… (easier said than done, I know – but completely achievable)




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