Columnist reflects on lack of life skills in classroom

By Sophie Howie

Editor’s Note: This column goes along with a life skills spread on Page 14 and Page 15 of the print edition of The Bagpiper on April 21. 

Many students complain that the skills they’re learning in school can’t be applied to everyday situations. Some parts of subjects, or entire subjects themselves, are often dismissed as irrelevant. FC students have roughly eight hours to learn, grow and socialize on an average school day. This brings up the question, “How many of those eight hours are being wasted on material that will be virtually no help later in life?” It’s said that school is meant to prepare students for the rest of their lives, but in reality, it’s only preparing them for similar classes in higher education that they may not take. After college, it seems, they’re on their own with the skills they have and that’s that.

But that shouldn’t be the case, especially for the one time-consumer that takes up the bulk of a student’s day. That time should be spent as best as it can, on skills and tricks that can get students through post-high-school life with ease, not information that is only useful to a select group of people with very particular career interests.

The Jumpstart Coalition surveys are used to assess students on their knowledge of credit cards, insurance, retirement and savings all relating to personal finance. The 2008 survey results showed that high school seniors answered an average of only 48.3 percent of the questions correctly. Are we really dumping these kids out of our doors with the knowledge of how to use the quadratic formula, but not how to do their taxes? High school students taught how to find “x ” but not a job. 

Speaking of which, Finnish students are certainly receiving a meaningful education. You may have heard about how Finland doesn’t believe in homework, gives breaks for every 45 minutes of teaching, starts school later in the day, and only requires students to take one standardized test. Well now they’ve gone and gotten rid of school subjects, replacing them with what they call “teaching by topic.” This system involved career-centered teaching that involves all the lessons (in a variety of subjects, but not weighed down by being taught in those categories) they should know to prepare for the field of work they’re interested in. Those in support of this system say that the school systems everywhere else are stuck in the past and that their new approach is 21st century learning. They scrapped the rule book we still stick to religiously, and they’ve created a top-notch educational system.

Let’s face facts — geometric proofs won’t fix a flat tire and finding dew point won’t write your resume. The truth is, those necessary skills aren’t viewed as a priority in the school system and we’d all be better off if they were better acknowledged and woven into the curriculum.

One way to do this is to have one day where a teacher or guest speaker comes in to teach a different life skill every period. FC could also take the “Writing Across the Curriculum” approach and require certain classes to complete life skills assignments on a variety of topics, which could come in the form of a faux job application or a virtual budget. What seems to be the best way, however, is to offer a separate class devoted to learning these integral skills, one that could take the place of all the one-semester classes that go over bits and pieces of those topics. If such a class gets results, it might even become required for a Core 40 diploma and higher.

But how can we make this happen? Well, the Indiana Department of Education has everything laid out. On the IDOE website, the topics to be covered and other information about the Preparing for College and Careers class is open for anyone to see. According to the IDOE, this class “Addresses the knowledge, skills, and behaviors all students need to be prepared for success in college, career, and life.”

Without a class like this, students resort to trying their best to take all the smaller classes praying that they have enough room in their schedules for all of them. It would be so much easier on students to have a single, comprehensive program that covered everything and covered everything in detail. Until we change the system, this is just another thing students will be forced to stress over.

If FC took the separate class method into consideration, the course should go over topics like personal finance, first aid with CPR training, living an eco-friendly lifestyle, self-defense, and applying for a job. Some may say that it’s the parent’s job to teach these skills to their children, but with some students’ parents working long hours or not being an expert at those skills themselves, it’s becoming more important that the school takes on some of those duties. In the end, we need to send students out of high school fully prepared for real life, no matter what that means for the school system.

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