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All too often, Townsend Harris students find themselves stuck in school all week and then at home all weekend doing homework and spending time online—a monotonous cycle that lasts the whole school year. Though our school is known for its quality academics, there is one area of study in which many Harrisites are lacking: cultural education.
We are a humanities school located in New York City, and yet most students do not embrace this. Because students don’t take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them in this city, they are missing out on a rich, dimensional education. Without experiencing arts and culture outside a classroom, students aren’t effectively learning about the humanities. Cultural education allows students to understand social, political and historical issues in a different way.
Many students do not explore the city around them, or write off worthwhile cultural activities as being too expensive or too far away. This simply isn’t true in Queens alone, there are numerous museums, historical sites, parks, music venues, and restaurants, and many are free or modestly priced, with some offering student discounts. There is little awareness or encouragement to pursue these activities, so students overlook them. While the Humanities Department does advertise out-of-school events, assign “Culture Vulture” papers and occasionally go on field trips around New York, more can be done.
Just as we have a community service requirement to fulfill, we should have a small humanities requirement – students should participate in one culturally enriching activity per semester. The requirement should be broad enough to allow students to do something that they’ll enjoy but still get them to experience something new. In an ideal world, students wouldn’t need a push from the school to do these things–having a requirement gives them a solid incentive.
Many colleges, such as Columbia University and Macaulay Honors College, include visiting New York cultural institutions in their curriculum to add dimension and real-world context to students’ learning experience. Macaulay offers a “cultural passport” to its students that offers free or discounted admission to various museums and performance venues around the five boroughs and also include cultural class trips as part of its required classes. As part of the Columbia Arts Initiative, which offers discounts similar to Macaulay’s program, over 150 classes and 4,000 students attended cultural events and performances. The high level of student involvement indicates that this type of program can be effective and worthwhile. It’s easy to take living in New York City for granted, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the extraordinary opportunities this city offers. Students need to stop hiding at home and start to see what they’re missing.