My students are currently driving themselves insane filling out honors applications for high school. Every year I go through the panic with them because their desire to get into honors classes is palpable. However, I often wonder if all the blood, sweat, and tears is worth it. I suppose that depends on why these kids want to be in honors classes to begin with.
When I was in high school, I was in honors classes. If I ask myself why, I guess there were a couple of reasons. One reason was because that was what my parents wanted from me. They had high expectations for me academically so it was natural for me to be in high level classes. I also wanted to be there because I deserved to be in honors classes. I know that sounds arrogant, but I liked school and I liked seeing how well I performed on standardized tests (I actually got a thrill at seeing the little bar on the chart going all the way to the 99th percentile). I knew I had the academic mettle to be in honors classes, so I deserved to be placed in them. I will also admit that I wanted honors classes for the prestige factor. I liked being in with the "smart" kids. I liked telling my non-honors class friends about what I was doing in class and having them be impressed. Or at least they acted like it. In hindsight, I have realized that I liked being challenged. In high school, I thought I hated it, but now I realize that I thrive on being pushed to think.
The down side of honors classes, for me personally, actually consisted of two apparently contradictory parts. One thing I found when I got to college was that the honors classes didn't seem to matter to anyone. I didn't get anything special out of college because I had been in honors classes in high school. I didn't get to move ahead any faster. Now, maybe I did and just didn't realize it. Maybe my academic transition to college was pretty easy because I had honors classes in high school. But I guess I expected something more tangible, some noticeable edge. It simply didn't seem to be there. The flip side was honors classes actually worked against me in college in math and science. I was an English major so I was looking to take the easiest math and science classes I could in college, preferably something with the course number 101. No such luck. Honors math and science classes landed me in college level trigonometry and advanced chem courses; I wasn't allowed the 101 courses! I was not a happy camper!
In hindsight, I am glad I took honors classes in high school mostly because I enjoyed the challenge. As my students work on their honors applications, I often wonder what their reasons are. I hope if they get into honors classes, they are all they want them to be and do it for the right reasons. I also want them to know that if they apply and don't get in, they still have a promising future. Honors classes are wonderful if they are appreciated, but they do not define a student's potential.