As if I already hadn’t said so, teaching is ridiculously hard work. As I come to the beginning of my third week as a teacher’s aide in a high school English classroom (and first official week in a student-teaching internship), that hard work is ever more apparent. But lately, something else is becoming crystal clear: The U.S. education system needs to revamp its curriculum.
I’m not talking about the Common Core or adding more AP science and math courses, either. You’ll get no argument from me that our schools need more well-trained science and math teachers to better engage the bored and battered coming into our classrooms. And with students spending an average of 53 hours weekly (weekly!!) with TV, video games or online, Lord knows we need a serious emphasis on literary analysis and the critical thinking developed by sustained reading and serious writing in English classes. (Side note, a 2008 study on writing and technology revealed that 73 percent of students surveyed do not consider their online writing, such as Face Book updates, “real” writing – although they enjoy it more than most in-school writing.)
But what I’m talking about are things like logic and personal finance and playing nice with others. Plenty of students can write a basic MLA-cited research paper, but it becomes obvious in class discussions they don’t grasp logic. They can parrot talking heads from “news-talk” shows, but they don’t know how to analyze media and, unless they hail from a foreign country, they know little to nothing about current events and how to read a newspaper. They know how to use an ATM, but not make a budget or reconcile a check book – let alone read the fine print on credit card interest rates.
They don’t know how to cook, grow their own food, sew on a button, and, hard as it is to believe in a supposedly post-racial society, they don’t really know how to get along or disagree with respect. Fewer and fewer have dinner with their parents nightly (or even weekly), so they lack basic manners; more and more come from divorced homes steeped in poor communication skills. In spite of living in a world where extremists have made religion a top-of-the-food-chain issue, all but a handful know anything about the history of religion, especially in the development of this country. Add to all that, only a teeny tiny percentage of our students are anything close to fluent in a second language and many way too many are fat.
Therefore, if I ran the world – or at least the Department of Education – I would change the required-for-graduation high school curriculum to include:
4 years of physical education – the kind with standards to meet, not just “grab a ball and play.” 1 semester of personal finance; final semester before graduation 1 semester of what used to be home economics. Students would learn the basics of nutrition; how to cook at least five balanced meals; how to mend clothing, and read a sewing pattern. This class would be responsible for the semester’s care of the school garden. First semester of senior year. 1 semester of economics and one semester of business math or statistics; senior year in lieu of 4th year of math. If the high end math kids still want Calculus AB and BC, they can have it, as well. But econ and business math are the requirements. 1 year of current events, taken concurrently with U.S. History during junior year. We’ve got a whole generation of kids growing up ignorant of what is happening round them and thus, unable to truly participate in a democracy (or know what we should be watching out for internationally). 1 year of a logic-media analysis class in lieu of the fourth year of English. (Yes, I know this is heresy for an English teacher-in-trainig, but I think that a logic/media analysis course would be heavy on writing/reading/analysis/critical thought, a senior English standard.) 1 year of a life-skills course, which would focus on interpersonal relationships, communication, manners, racial-cultural-religious relations, and communication with young people in other parts of the world. 1 semester of community service: Every student would participate in a semester-long community service project sometime during junior or senior year. The easiest option would be tutoring underclassmen or working with the special education classrooms at their school. But there are other options as well – and the students could come up with ideas. We need to help students become “other focused.” As for that second language? In a forward-thinking country, a second language – most likely Spanish for the U.S. – would be taught from kindergarten on, just as English is taught as a second language in most developed countries beginning in elementary school. By the time these kids got to middle school, they’d be taking Spanish conversation and able to add a third language and learn it much more quickly, and continue through high school.
What do you think is missing from the high school curriculum?