A New High School Course

A recent post in my Facebook feed suggested that high schools should focus on teaching basic skills such as figuring out a mortgage payment, how to fill out a check, and writing in cursive.

I felt a tug of disdain. This kind of discussion about what should be happening in schools bothers me because the public often believe two incorrect things about public schools. First, they know what happens in schools, what is taught there, and what the curriculum is. Second, schools are default place where knowledge and skills are taught that can’t be taught in other places.

My response was to say that schools are not the dumping ground or location to fix what people perceive as the ills of society–kids not being able to write in cursive.  I was pressed to then explain where, if not schools, these things should be learned. While I don’t feel pressed to provide a solution, when I think about it, maybe a bank could teach its clients how to calculate a mortgage or write a check. And, really, when was the last time in a professional setting where you were asked to hand-write a document in cursive.  

However, my second, and hopefully more thoughtful reaction, is to ask people to recognize that our world–and particularly how knowledge is learned, constructed, found, owned, transferred–has fundamentally changed. When everyone carries a computer in his or her pocket and YouTube and Wikipedia are the largest libraries we have ever seen, knowledge has become decentralized. Self-teaching and self-instruction is new way to learn (Here’s a link to a search in YouTube on how to calculate a mortgage payment; here’s a link to videos on writing in cursive).

Accept that creativity, entrepreneurship, design-thinking, flexibility and innovation are the new skills that people entering the workforce need. If we accept the predictions that those entering the workforce may change jobs three or four times in their work-span and that the jobs they may participate in have not been created yet, then our schools, classrooms and teachers need to change from the models of education created coming out of the industrial revolution, and an 1950s, Eisenhower-ian, white, male, middle-class establishment.

However, schools and teachers are important. They are places where  students prepare for the challenges of life. Teachers are important, because they understand how to structure learning, and give people the skills to be auto-didactic. 

Here are 10 exercises and learning experiences that, I think, that 12th graders should have. The list is in no particular order. Perhaps this would be the foundation for a 1 semester class:

  1. Conduct an interview with an adult, someone they don’t know.
  2. Create and conduct a survey using online tools.
  3. Write the following: a resume, a cover letter for college application or job, a “This I Believe” essay, a letter to a state or national representative, an application for a federally funded grant or the paperwork for a small business loan and the tax forms to setup a personal business.
  4. Maintain a social media account or blog.
  5. Work, volunteer, job-shadow or complete a project for 20% of the student’s outside of class time.
  6. Learn a new skill to proficiency. Perhaps this skill should be one of student choice, and perhaps it should be a skill that they are told they need to learn. Maybe both.
  7. Teach someone a skill so that the learner is then proficient in it. As above, the learner here should, maybe, be disinterested.
  8. Be given one of the following situations and develop a protocol for solution/action: your house has burned down or a natural disaster has occurred and you must relocate, you or a family member are given a life-threatening medical diagnosis, you’ve been fired from your job.
  9. Build a family tree.
  10. Learn to code.

I work to provide many of these experiences for my students. I’m sure this list will change. I would love to hear your ideas.  

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