Lately there is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of standardized testing in the public schools, and rightly so. This discussion needs to take place. But after a recent conversation with my 15-year-old daughter, I’m wondering if our focus should shift from how we teach our young people to what we teach them.
My daughter says she is “infuriated” with her curriculum. And she claims a number of her classmates feel the same way. She sees some of her homework as “a waste of time,” specifically algebra and biology. Why, she asks, must she study quadratic equations and cell structure when she will most likely never use that knowledge in the “real world.” She believes she should instead be studying “practical” courses such as personal finance.
I think she makes a valid point. High school math and “hard science” courses are ideal for those planning careers in computer science, engineering, medicine or teaching. For the rest of us, I believe they should be electives. Core curriculum should consist of courses that provide useful knowledge, information that will benefit everyone. We all need to read and write intelligently, we all need a good understanding of history, we all need strong, healthy, bodies.
Besides English, history, physical education and the “soft sciences,” here are a few examples of practical courses that could be included in public school core curriculum:
Personal finance: It seems to me, we all need to understand the value of work and earning money, saving and investing, how to balance a checkbook and create a budget.
A survey of world religions: I think young people should be introduced to the possibility that there might be more to life than what we detect with our five senses. A “philosophy of life” is sorely lacking in a growing number of teens and young adults. I’ve never understood why science is studied in high school while religion is ignored. I believe both world views are of equal importance. America was founded not on scientific principles, but rather on religious principles.
Basic etiquette: Can we agree that young people today are lacking some fundamental social skills? Face-to-face conversation seems to be a lost art. I cannot think of a more practical, powerful skill than the ability to express one’s thoughts politely and cogently in mixed company. A course on etiquette might also include topics like showing respect for one’s elders and authority, civic responsibility and working as a volunteer. The kinds of social interaction that characterized civilizations for thousands of years, up until the birth of the smartphone, need not be relegated to the ash heap of history. I believe etiquette can be cultivated and practiced in a classroom, just like algorithms and the periodic table.
Daniel Braun is a resident of Everett.