A grade 11 student walks into guidance and asks to switch into grade 12 philosophy. The course had space. The student had all the prerequisites. A few grade 11 students had even taken the course in semester 1. But the student was turned away. Why? The course spaces were being reserved for grade 12 students who might later decide to take it. Welcome to senior privilege.

I should start by saying that Marc Garneau CI is one of the schools least affected by this problem. Our guidance counselors, teachers, and administrators have been known to work together to ensure that all students can translate their ambitions to their course schedule. Our administration has implemented a remarkable new policy this year, allowing students to take higher-level courses provided they indicate this option on course selection day. Students in other schools often find themselves definitively bound to their own grade’s courses.

Non-senior students must wait to switch into grade 12 courses to save spots for senior students who may choose to take the course.

But still, during course-switching week, MGCI’s junior students must go to heroics to overcome the senior privilege. We are far from perfect.

There are compelling reasons for accelerating courses. Students may be particularly interested in a subject, or looking to broaden their horizons with an attractive specialized senior course. It’s true that many of these ambitious students are setting themselves up for a tough semester, and to ask a teacher to deal with what could be an unusually wide range of abilities is unreasonable. But what about the students who have both the ambition and ability to do well in a higher level course?

They’re told to stick to the path. They’re told that they won’t be able to manage. They’re told that the spaces are needed for seniors.

So, why do we enforce this system that celebrates mediocrity? The answer is – you guessed it – money. Our province’s education system is an industrial assembly line: students walk in; students take largely the same classes in the same order; diplomas are printed; students walk out. The province has fulfilled its obligation; and suddenly, you’re on your own. As crude as it is, the ministry can’t let teenagers take control of their timetables because it can’t afford the possibility of their failing.

Trying to provide a solid education to the largest number of people is reasonable, but only to a point. By grade 11, most students are at least sixteen. They’re big kids now; they can make their own decisions.

Let’s give high school juniors more freedom to take the electives they want, when they want to take them. If the student, the parent, and the course instructor all agree that the student is capable, then a student should be allowed into the course. It’s that simple.  Classes belong to interested and able students, without regard to grade level. Spots should be given on a first-come, first-served basis.

It’s not ambition we should be shutting away from guidance offices across the province, but rather senior privilege.