School should prepare you for life in the real-world. And it does. Sort of.
Your ability to function successfully as an adult will depend at least in part on how well you can read a recipe, write a letter, or calculate a tip. In other words, much of what they teach you in school is worth remembering, if not for your professional future, for your personal life.
But just how well are schools actually equipping students to become functional members of society? While few could question the value of reading, writing, and arithmetic, is this really everything we need to know?
Indeed, it seems that young humans are generally send into the world with plenty of education but a dearth of practical knowledge to help them navigate everyday life. In the interests of dispatching more young learns into adulthood with the practical skills and knowledge needed to survive, we propose:
How well do you understand the labels on the back of your groceries? Do you know how much riboflavin you need in your weekly diet? How can you limit your sodium intake? What in the world is monosodium glutamate and why should you avoid it?
The spread of adolescent obesity and juvenile diabetes underscore the need for greater nutritional education. Schools have an opportunity to step in early and ensure that students learn how to make positive dietary decisions. Sedentary adults often struggle with diet and exercise. But as educators, we have a great opportunity to intervene before negative lifestyle habits can become ingrained.
The first step is creating a mandatory educational program that provides background information and practice in reading food labels, making smart nutritional decisions, and creating a sustainable longterm dietary plan.
2. Automobile Maintenance
High schools typically offer driver’s education. This course is aimed at preparing teenage students to get behind the wheel. As such, it provides instruction on the rules of the road and the actual practice of driving. Both are necessary to pass the written and road tests required to earn one’s license.
However, one major aspect of motorist training is largely overlooked. Outside of the auto-shop elective offered in select schools, few students ever enjoy full instruction on automobile maintenance and repair.
Of course, cars aren’t cheap. Learning how to change your own oil, filters, belts, windshield wipers, and battery could save you a ton of money over the lifetime. And learning how to diagnose your own auto problems is perhaps the best way to avoid being the victim of an unscrupulous mechanic.
We could empower our students to greater self-sufficiency, savings, and safety by arming them with the tools to keep their own wheels rolling.
Many high schools require students to take an economics class or to study an economics unit as part of their government studies. Oftentimes, these units of study provide a series of lessons on planning a budget.
As those of us out in the real world know, planning and adhering to a budget can sometimes be two entirely different practices. Of course, knowing how to prepare a budget is the first step for personal financial success and security. Often, though, we don’t have the chance to refine our saving strategies or reign in our spending tendencies until confronted with the responsibilities of independent living.
Only 13 states currently require personal finance classes for graduation. More states should get on board with this requisite, as personal finance classes for a standard diploma would provide a long-lasting benefit to the economic future of our country.
Among 16- to 18-year-olds, 86 percent said they would rather learn about money management in the classroom than make personal financial blunders in the real world, according to a 2011 survey by investment bank Charles Schwab. We owe it to them to provide this opportunity.
It’s simply better for your health and for your wallet to cook meals at home. Considering that food is essential to everyday living and physical survival, we should know how to prepare it!
Unfortunately, not everybody learns how to do this in the comfort of the family kitchen. The proliferation of pre-packaged foods and drive-thru restaurants means that for many, knife skills and plating principles are a distant afterthought. Surely, not everyone is meant to become a chef at a three-star Michelin restaurant, but we should know how to do a bit than boil water for ramen.
People who frequently cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less, according to new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research. This is to say nothing of the savings. Whether schools elect to dedicate a nine-week unit, a semester, or an entire year to this course of study, a cooking education should be required.
College students are seen as easy prey for on-campus credit card companies. There’s a good reason for this. It’s because so many of them will arrive at college without a real understanding of credit and its potential consequences.
At some point, we all need to establish a line of credit, but will students know how to maintain good credit out in the world? Will they fall victim to the deceptive marketing of introductory offers, and a failure to read the fine print? Will they understand how interest rates work and how those rates apply to the items they’ve charged? These are pertinent economic questions that American classrooms so desperately need to answer if students are to be truly equipped for the realities ahead.
Indeed, credit card debt is fastest growing among young adults aged 18 to 24. From 1982 to 2011, credit card debt among this demographic more than doubled. Over the same years, credit card debt among 25- to 34-year-olds increased more than 50 percent. When you combine this with student loan debt, many graduates find themselves behind the 8-ball even before they’ve embarked on a career.
We need to take better care of our students by providing them with meaningful lessons in responsible credit management before creditors and collection agencies teach them the hard way.
6. First Aid
It is vital to have practical knowledge of first aid.
You never know where you’ll be—or how far away from first-responders—when emergency strikes. Creating a citizenry with the ability to provide basic and emergency first aid should be a top priority for our schools. From administering CPR or the Heimlich maneuver to treating allergic reactions and stopping profuse bleeding, first aid techniques can save lives.
In order for young children and teenagers to grow into responsible, independent, young adults who can take proper care of themselves and others, they need to be able to recognize the signs of dehydration, concussion, and heat exhaustion, among other dangerous medical scenarios. It’s also just as important to recognize when a situation cannot be resolved without a trip to the emergency room. Making a quick and informed decision can be the difference between life and death.
Let’s be sure that all of our students understand the basics of first aid administration by the time they leave high school.
While we aren’t particularly old-fashioned here at TBS Magazine, we do sometimes wonder if good manners have simply gone by the wayside.
While most would maintain that the home is the best place for teaching manners, we are no longer living in a Leave It to Beaver world. Blame it on today’s casual culture or smartphones or the language of television, but not all children learn the proper rules of social order in the home. According to recent research, 95 percent of Americans believe that the general tone and level of civility in the U.S. is a problem. Children learn from example, and if parents and the media aren’t modeling good manners, it may fall on the school to cultivate “pleases” and “thank-yous.”
It may seem like a small and petty matter, but we could perhaps go a great distance to reduce the vitriol and anger in our public discourse if we all learned to treat each other with greater dignity and respect. It may be time to resurrect the concept of the mandatory elementary school etiquette class.
8. Household Repairs
For all the joys that come with home ownership, the list of headaches—from installing light fixtures to fixing leaky faucets—is never-ending. If you ever aspire to own your own home, you would do well to learn how to manage these headaches.
Your first taste of maintenance and upkeep can be overwhelming. While there are instructional videos all over the web to provide you with remote assistance, this is really the kind of education that is best delivered by an expert. The techniques and technicalities specific to some repairs really do require the help of a trained authority. Schools should employ such authorities.
Knowing how to use the proper tools for various tasks not only delivers a cost savings to a homeowner, but also instills a sense of pride. There is value in being able to create, construct, and repair with your own two hands, and there is value in knowing which repairs or renovations you can handle personally and which are best left in the hands of the professionals.
If you dream of eventual home ownership, consider an education in household repairs as a necessary primer.
Realistically speaking, even the most knowledgeable and educated adults have trouble parsing through the internationally obfuscating language used in the world of insurance.
From claims to deductibles to coverage, the insurance business is ridden with complication. Students leaving home need to be equipped with a solid understanding of this business before enrolling in car, health, or renter’s insurance policies on their own.
A general overview of policyholders’ rights, the differences between individual and group plans, and knowing what kinds of questions to ask when shopping for a policy would provide a firm foundation in a young person’s first independent quest to be insured. Equally important is knowing how to dispute unfavorable claims, how to defend one’s rights as a consumer, and how to protect one’s self from less-than-reputable insurers.
By initiating this education for students at a younger age, we give them a better chance of navigating this very arcane world with their knowledge to defend them.
10. Local Government
How many people can you name in your local government? Who represents you on the town council or school board or in the House of Representatives? How have they voted?
Sure, you know who’s running for president? But what about those who make decisions that effect your everyday life? The old phrase “change begins at home” rings true.
We learn all about the three branches of government, checks and balances, the Electoral College, and George Washington in social studies. But how well do we understand our local government? Do we learn how to apply for a zoning permit, seek the placement of a new “Stop” sign, or participate in local city council meetings? Perhaps students would be inclined to take a more active role in local government if given a more intimate understanding of its functions.
School should be the outlet for teaching children to take part in matters impacting their community and to evolve into positions of local leadership.
Apart from joining the debate team, students currently have little opportunity to learn and practice the art of negotiation. More than mere arguing, negotiation is a skill in which cogent logic, artful persuasion, and effective compromise are essential.
Learning how to negotiate isn’t just an important skill for getting a good deal on big-ticket purchases (e.g. houses, cars) or making a case for a salary raise. Negotiation centers on conflict resolution and problem solving, and is a prime platform for delving into creative and critical thinking, for managing personal relationships, and for strengthening professional partnerships. Negotiation is an art that must be taught, practiced in order to be mastered.
It should be the province of schools to teach even those students not affiliated with the debate team to advance their priorities and interests by employing and refining proven negotiating skills.
12. Social Media Safety
Recent studies from the Pew Research Center show that 71 percent of teens say they use at least one, if not more, of the following social networks: Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, and Tumblr.
Like it or not, social media aren’t going anywhere. This means that young students today and in future generations must learn to handle themselves properly on such platforms. At present, 34 percent of students report experiencing cyber-bullying in their lifetimes.
While some schools now provide mini-units of study on internet safety, more is necessary. Unfortunately, one in three parents believes their teens to be much more tech-savvy than they are, leaving them with a sense of helplessness when it comes to their teen’s online behaviors. Only 21.7 percent of parents think their teens can get in trouble online. This parental disconnect from reality is disconcerting.
Apart from the basic importance of teaching young users to recognize and report predators, as well as to discourage cyber-bullying, students should receive a proper education on digital behavior. From avoiding social oversharing, and accidentally hitting “Reply All,” to maintaining privacy and preserving one’s public reputation, students need to know how to exist safely and how to self-regulate in a digital world.
13. Stress Management
Adults often have the tendency to forget that children and teens experience stress and that this stress can have real and very serious consequence.
The American Psychology Association’s 2009 survey, Stress in America, revealed that children and teenagers report physical symptoms of stress (including headaches, sleep disturbance, and eating problems) far more frequently than do adults.
Stress management is vital to maintaining good health, productivity, happiness, and success, as well as helping students cope with the serious risks of anxiety disorder and depression. Schools are taking an active role in helping students make healthier choices (e.g. removing vending machines, providing more nutritious lunch choices, etc.).
Mental health should be treated with this same level of prioritization. And given that schools are frequently a leading source of stress for students, it seems reasonable to argue that schools should play a central role in helping students manage and cope with that stress. Likewise, by making stress management a regular and mandated part of education, we can help to remove the stigma that often surrounds treatment of mental health issues. This is an important step in helping to confront and relieve these issues.
14. Survival skills
People usually cite “connecting with nature” as one of their top reasons for enjoying the wilderness. But what happens when something goes wrong in the great outdoors?
Fatalists and conspiracy theorists living off the grid claim that wilderness survival is essential for the survival of the species. Realists bring to mind the idea that, as humans, we can’t control Mother Nature, not even with the most cutting-edge technologies. So, we must learn how to handle whatever scenarios or natural disasters we’re thrown into. And even we are spared one of Mother Nature’s meltdowns, we never know when we might need emergency first aid on a hiking trail or camping trip.
Instructing wilderness survival skills is one of the best ways to teach someone how to think quickly, assess situations, find solutions, and become self-reliant—all skills that can enhance and save lives.
Admittedly, there are few subjects that students will find less interesting. But a little boredom may be necessary in this case. After all, few adults find taxes enjoyable either, but they still have to be done. Like insurance, this is a subject that almost seems intentionally designed to trip up us common folk.
What do I declare? Where do my taxes go? How do I properly file? Should I take a standard or itemized deduction? What if I’ve earned money from my part-time job, but my parents still claim me as a dependent?
And what happens if I make a mistake?!?
We won’t sugarcoat this one. Making a mistake on your taxes could cost you a ton of money (and even land you in jail, though that isn’t too likely as long as you approach your taxes with honesty).
Most young people never even get to glance at an IRS form until it’s time for them to file. Learning how to fill out and file basic income tax forms correctly should be a requirement for all graduating seniors. Everybody has to file taxes every single year. It seem only appropriate that every young student should learn the basic ins and outs of accurate and legal filing.
Any subjects we missed? Let us know!