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As much as I hate to say it, as much as it might forsake the couple of classes that enriched my life and the few teachers who each pointed me a degree or two in the right direction, I graduated high school with hardly any useful life skills or relevant knowledge.
The only reason I deem the small number of classes “meaningful” as such is because they allowed me to flaunt my already present talents (few as they may be) without really developing them, and the rest exist (in my perception) to be complete wastes of my time, where I would sit, driftless and impatient, feeling a little piece of me fade away with every class period that passed. The teaching was aimless, the subject was immaterial, and the whole atmosphere was perforated with disinterest.
Now, for the most part, I wasn’t a poor student; I graduated in the top 10% of my class in a pretty good, whoever decides those standards, high school in upstate New York, where public school funding is on the high end compared to most places. I was no slouch. I put in the work. I put in the effort.
But…what did I get out of it? What did anyone get out of it?
I had the opportunity to leverage my good grades to get into an also pretty good college, but even though I’ve been gone from those high school grounds for two years, sometimes old faces resurface on the web or in my mind; faces who went on to work in family businesses, be stationed in Japan in the military, and one face, I know for certain, who went looking for treasure in the canyons of Utah.
These faces didn’t go to college. So I can’t help but think allegorically and imagine a small child, not a genius, but by no means an idiot either, who’s taught in the school of complacency, within a 4×4 concrete cell that bars them from pain and experience, armed only with two blocks of wood and a length of string, and then released into daylight at the end of a 13-year stretch and told to build a house with structural integrity. The high school curriculum which I sat through simply did not give me the tools to build a life with.
I understand that high school’s often seen as a preparatory place for college, to get the grades to prove to application readers that you’re not a complete dunce. But what about all those people who, for their own reasons (and, admirably, often good ones) who don’t go to college? Shouldn’t they get something out of it too?
Shouldn’t high school be a life preparatory institution rather than college preparatory? As I’m the one who’s proposing it, obviously, I believe it.
The typical high school curriculum should change to actually prepare us for a life onward, regardless of our path. But the focus is always so obviously put on the assumption that you are going to college, dammit.
The classes that we’re taught need to be changed to reflect this shift in focus. And for argument’s sake, I’m going to ignore the heavy emphasis on grades, numerical values, and all the behind-the-scenes interests of the politicians funding the schools; I’m just going to think about what would be best for the students, the ones who really matter.
So here’s what I think:
The number of times I’ve been propositioned for a credit card, loan, or investment before I understood the components of them are too many to count. My school didn’t offer any sort of classes that taught students how to manage a budget, use a credit card, pay taxes, or be any degree of financially literate.
Really, the required knowledge needed for this realm is very simple, and mostly grounded in common sense, but so many people face financial situations, or are given too much fiscal power, before they understand what they’re doing, that they commonly and unknowingly dig themselves into a financial hell-hole without a ladder to climb back out of it.
For those planning on investing tens of thousands of dollars into higher education after high school, it’s critical for them to understand earning potential, the time-value of money, the various aspects of loans, and typical pay scales and hidden fees often tacked on when borrowing from a bank; things that most high school kids don’t know the bare basics about, but absolutely must know.
Bad investments can be some of the most crippling financial mistakes, so teaching students about the different financial aspects of stocks and bonds, other forms of currency, or homeownership can help prevent them from financially ruining their lives. Whether they intend to pursue further education or not, basic financial management knowledge is critical in setting up students for life-long success.
The school system needs to step up and require students to take some sort of personal finance class in their freshman year, at the very least. If high school graduates are expected to gamble so much wealth for their future at such a young age, they should have the proper knowledge to make the right play.
There was a public speaking class offered at my school which I was unable to take, but if this were required, possibly in junior year, when most people are either applying for college or interviewing for jobs, a class like this would be very useful to the students taking it. The class would teach public speaking, interviewing skills, formulating and carrying out a structured debate, and negotiating.
Also, if these skills are not required to be taught by the school’s academic advising office, drafting effective cover letters, resumes, applications and business proposals can be included in this class’s curriculum as well. Everyone in my high school, during their junior year, was required to attend two class-long lectures covering these topics, but honestly, they were pretty lackluster and unhelpful.
A class even somewhat resembling this wasn’t offered to me until I entered college, which I believe is far too late. Really diving into these topics in a full-blown class in a high school setting will really hammer home some of the most important skills any professional worker requires.
So many people I know, as intelligent as they are, totally lack the necessary verbal, and sometimes written, communication skills needed to move forward in their career aspirations, and introducing this sort of class would equip high school graduates with the skills to think critically, speak openly, market themselves, and not be taken advantage of in a deal or sale.
Namely the 11 western continental states, as well as Texas, Oklahoma and Florida, where a prominent percentage of the population is Spanish speaking. It’s safe to assume that most high school graduates will stay in their respective states, or at least stay within a couple adjacent states; few actually move to opposite ends of the country.
As such, as Spanish becomes more predominant in the states listed, it’s important that the rest of those growing up in these states learn how to communicate effectively with other Spanish speakers, to make social and economic assimilation easier.
The similar case can be made for small areas across the country; French can be mandatory in the NOLA region and North Country (New York)/upper New England, and German in the Dakotas, but Spanish is the obviously dominant language in the US, other than English. So if any change regarding language instruction should be made, it should be focused on Spanish. The full four years of high school would be required to reach fluency, or at least proficiency, in a language; perhaps one or two grades of middle school would be required as well, as my school district had offered.
Foreign language education, in this sense, would take on a similar model to the one most Western European countries use in teaching children other languages. While the transient nature of European workers often justifies their requirement to learn one (or even two or more) foreign languages, the inherently multicultural character of the US requires us to be at the very least bilingual, even if we don’t find ourselves traveling very far from home.
This is sort of a hybrid class I’ve concocted. Essentially, the class would focus on the actual use of the internet, how to navigate it, conduct yourself on it (such as what you should and shouldn’t post to social media, downloading illegal files, or visiting dangerous websites), as well as how to recognize untrustworthy and biased information online.
The internet is one of the greatest tools mankind has at its disposal, but none of us were given a solid curriculum designed around how to use it growing up. It’s like allowing someone to drive without testing them for a license. The parents should be involved in teaching their children how to use the internet as well, but there should be a freshman or sophomore class that high school students should take, just in case.
As I’ve mentioned before, I thought most of my high school classes were a waste of time. They weren’t relevant to the path I was going down in life, and I could tell by the deadened looks in my peers’ eyes that they weren’t too relevant to them either.
However, if students had a much freer range of classes to choose from, making, say, 80% of them optional, that would allow students who already know what they want to do going into high school to continue to specialize and hone their skills.
This would allow students be more proficient in a particular area and better market their skills after graduation. If students were preparing for college, it would be great if they could take classes that would allow them to receive credits for introductory college courses, which could be used to save time and money.
And for those who don’t know what they want to do, this free range will allow them to more effectively discover what they’re interested in through classes, giving them the choice of what they want to take, fostering their curiosity, so they can graduate knowing at least a little bit about themselves, and possibly prevent them from (expensively) pursuing something after high school that they too-late find out isn’t meaningful.
Students would still have to take a certain number of classes during their four years, but the open catalogue of courses would make the whole high school experience more fulfilling and worthy of one’s time.
The modern high school curriculum and how it’s taught is dangerously outdated. School’s now a place where we learn to follow instructions and satisfy dubious “requirements” for the sake of standards. It’s a place to churn out factory line workers who might’ve thrived making Model T Fords back in those days, but now, it’s a writhing corpse of what it could potentially be.
We just need to rejuvenate it, bring it to life again so it can pass on some of its energy to the students after graduation. In this day and age, we need to make sure that students are motivated, interested and prepared for the next steps in life…whatever that may be.
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