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Published: May 8, 2011

“Cafeteria style” curriculum

A term referring to “open” high school curricula offering students a wide choice of electives. The latter may range from core academic subjects such as English, mathematics, science and history, to personal improvement courses on hygiene and grooming, with almost all earning credits toward graduation. Cafeteria-style curricula emerged in the late 1950s, when high-school drop-out rates began climbing above 20%, and school administrators sought ways to retain more students by providing courses more attuned to student interests. The result in many schools was the development of the so-called general studies curriculum, with superficial courses in standard academic courses and a plethora of personal improvement courses in grooming, interpersonal relations, consumer affairs and home economics. (See also GENERAL EDUCATION.)