By Marti Harvey
For The Dallas Morning News
As I begin to prepare for next semester’s classes, I consider what my students need to learn. What aspects of my class will prepare them for the real world?
The educational system needs to do the same thing.
Every semester I have a week of “math lab” in my college reporting class. The words strike fear in my students. Their eyes roll back in their heads, they foam at the mouth, they sputter the words, “But I’m a liberal arts major.”
It’s not that bad, really. We cover things like what property tax changes mean for their rent, how interest rates affect their car or credit card payments, and how a 5 percent raise affects their paychecks.
We seldom get past property taxes before they start realizing that if they own property, they will pay property taxes forever. And it always surprises me that they don’t already know this.
It’s a failing of our educational system that students don’t leave high school with this basic understanding, among other things.
That’s why we need to bring back the old home economics class. Call it “Skills for Life” and make it mandatory in high schools. Teach basic economics, budgeting, comparison-shopping, basic cooking skills and time management. Give them a better start in real life than they get now.
How cool would it be if our kids knew how to shop for groceries and stay within a budget? Wouldn’t parents feel a sense of relief if their kids understood how interest accrues on their credit cards? And shouldn’t everyone have one great go-to meal they could cook if guests pop in?
These are the skills we learned in high school home economics, the skills all kids should have, whether they are college-bound or heading straight into the workforce.
I’ve heard the argument that young people should learn these things from their parents, but my experience is that they don’t, for various reasons.
Some parents don’t have time. Some parents don’t have the skills. Some parents don’t think about it until it’s time for their kids to leave home. And, since part of teaching is exposing kids to your own situation, some parents don’t think it’s any of their kids’ business.
But high school is the perfect time to introduce life’s basics. Students are beginning to feel like adults. They can see the light at the end of the high school tunnel. They’re thinking about what life will be like for them. Home economics signals to them that we know they’re growing up and we want to help them along in life’s journey.
So our high school curriculum needs to step up for students. Yes, English, history, algebra and science are important. But what good are they if you don’t know how to cook dinner or figure out how a FICO score affects interest on credit cards? How impressed would a potential employer be if a young job applicant could discuss killer time management skills?
Knowledge is power. It’s time to pass that power on to the next generation.
Marti Harvey is a lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington.