What Should High School Kids Be Learning?

Posted: 2011/04/12 in Classroom Teacher, Education, Education Reform, High School, Media, Students

I always start each year with the same question: Why go to school? After we get through the obvious answers (“Because my mom makes me go.”) the conversation invariably heads toward: What do you need to learn? Once again we slog through the obvious of reading, writing and basic math.

So what should kids learn in order to lead a full, rich life? What should they learn in order to succeed in our competitive world?

Why should a student do a research project about the socio-economic factors that led to the Harlem Renaissance? I could talk about young people learning to appreciate the arts, learning about cultures and communities, and understanding the forces of history. But how far would that take me with those who want to quantify education and boil it down to assessments and bottom lines?

The answer I lean toward is: You need to learn how to learn.

What are the steps in writing a report about the founding of the California Missions? You find information. You process that information, synthesizing the important points. You communicate your version of the information and put it in the form of a deliverable (essay, presentation, poster).

Interestingly, the above describes the steps of Information Processing: Input; Processing; Output; Storage. And in life, these are the steps a reasonable person uses when searching for a job, researching mortgage rates, choosing a school for their children, planning a vacation or buying an expensive new outfit.

What’s the point in teaching a kid how to use a current computer application? We need to teach them how to approach computers and applications, how to figure out the functions and comfortably use the Help Menu. On computers or off, we need to teach students to solve problems for themselves.

It’s one of those teach-a-man-to-fish things. Five years from now that young person is going to be in a job with a new device in hand that has a different interface and an unfamiliar computer application. Margaret Mead said it well:  “The time has come when we must teach our children what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one knows yet.”

Beyond that, what are the skills that employers need? And is it possible for high schools to help students develop those skills? (Coming up soon)

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