Are we failing the youth of this nation?

No, this is not a POD song tribute… more of a commentary on the education system as a whole. It is my humble opinion that the attempts at making students more “well-rounded” have most definitely had the reverse effect.

The argument for the past 20 or 30 years is that introducing students to a greater variety of topics will increase their ability to get a better job, contribute to society, and/or possibly be a better person.  I do not necessarily disagree with this sentiment. The focus on it has become far too great, much to the detriment of those exposed to it.

Trust me, this isn’t a fun argument to have. You try telling people that their kid should learn LESS. Very few positive reactions, let me tell you. Even so, I believe it is a conversation worth having.

The following are the topics I would minimize instruction time for, followed by what I’d supplement them with.

1) Advanced Math

Advanced Math

I’d learn this faster by trying to
understand the joke than
listening to a lecture

I know this would be a difficult thing for my high school calculus teacher to hear, but I can confidently say the ability to find a derivative of a function has done nothing for me in the past decade. I know a large portion of students never make it to calculus, but tell me how much advanced algebra you use at your day job and perhaps you’ll see my point.

What I’d concentrate more on: Personal Finance

Personal finance knowledge is important because it applies to our every day lives. Yes, calculus stretches your brain, but it doesn’t thoroughly explain the fact that student loans/credit cards/mortgages do indeed have to paid back at some point. Somewhere along the line we took for granted that people understood this. The ability to balance a check book never harmed anyone, either.

2) Art/Culture

Before you accuse me of heresy, please take a moment to consider why you enjoy art and/or culture. Is it because you took a test on it during school or the fact you explored and discovered it on your own at some point?

Art/Culture

If kids want to know about it, they’ll
Google it.

By forcing the subject on kids, I believe we actually make them less likely to learn about it on their own. Should we introduce kids to art and culture through lessons, field trips, and movies? Absolutely… a large fire starts with a a single spark. Do we need to test them on what year Picasso painted ‘Guernica‘? No, we do not.

What I’d concentrate more on: Reading/Grammar

Few things are sadder than reading an email rife with grammatical and spelling errors from someone you previously respected as an adult. Do I expect people to be perfect? No! I’m sure there are errors in this very post (possibly due to the fact that I was too busy learning that Picasso painted Guernica in 1937 as a response to the bombing of the City of Guerncia, Spain) that make english majors/writers/journalists cringe. Sorry guys, I had no say in the matter. What will help the next generation land a job? I’m going with ‘the ability to craft a coherent sentence on paper and in person’ ahead of ‘knowledge of famous paintings’.  Even with the distractions technology brings, the human urge to discover remains powerful. Kids will learn more from personal interest than any lesson plan, project, or test.

3) History

This is a tough one for me because I happen to love history (yes, I regularly weep for the History Channel and the garbage heap it has become). I will never say that teaching history should be abandoned, as it is important to know why society has formed one way versus another. However, the portions of history and the way it is taught should be reconsidered. I believe that kids should be left to explore parts of it on their own – particularly ancient history. Again, we must show them what is out there and then let them explore on their own.

What I’d concentrate more on: Government

You will deal with the government for your entire life, whether you like it or not. Taxes, road construction, millages, elections, and political parties are all part of adult life that we are ill-prepared for. I believe that schools could focus more on the workings of local government, then extrapolate to state and federal levels. A country that doesn’t understand its own governing system is not something that our forefathers fought and died for.

4) Gym

Not as crazy as it sounds, I promise. Gym class has almost always been an awkward tug-of-war between the athletically-gifted and non-coordinated children.

Dodgeball

The perils of youth

We ‘focus’ on physical fitness by pitting emotionally unstable teenagers of varying physical development against one another in a public forum that includes the opposite sex. Are we teaching them about physical fitness? Eh. More than likely we are scaring half the class into physical inferiority complexes while the other 50% gain inflated egos due to ill-supervised dodgeball victories.

What I’d concentrate more on: Nutrition and Fitness

As a former gym class connoisseur, I happened to love the 48 minute allotment of far too much testosterone. Looking back, however, I realize how I learned next to nothing from it. A holistic approach to health would benefit kids in a much greater way. Learning how certain foods affect your mood, the importance of protein at breakfast, and that anaerobic exercise is just as important as aerobic might turn the freshman fifteen into the freshman five (complete elimination of said phenomenon is far too utopian). Health care costs in this country are sky rocketing… perhaps a generation of well educated young people can avoid some of them.

Whether you agree with me or not, there is one irrefutable fact in all of this:

In a culture that demands specialization, we are pushing kids towards generalization. 

During his career, Andrew Opalewski has successfully navigated both the public and private sectors. Having grown up oblivious to local government, save for the limited amount taught in schools, he enjoys shedding light on what he feels is one of our nation’s best kept secrets. An avid sports fan and lover of sarcasm, he often chooses topics that reach beyond local government’s normal realm in an attempt to engage the average citizen.

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