By Justin Umstead
As our national scores continue to parade down the ranks in math and science, it’s important to remind ourselves that our school system utterly failed us in other important ways too. During the 1950s, families were usually responsible for teaching their kids the necessities in life – like changing oil in the family car and performing simple maintenance around the house.
But the traditional family met its untimely end decades ago when dual-working households and single-parent families became the hip, new way to make a killing on your tax return. These simple life lessons were never passed along to society at large and the cracks are beginning to show. Take for example:
For those of you who have never met me, I’ve been an accountant for a number of years and I’m always a little anxious when I hear someone say they don’t have a clue where their money is going. Balancing a checkbook is important, but even electronic banking has allowed us to keep track of all of our purchases mentally and compare them with our bank account statements online.
What I’m referring to is the horror every business major feels when they hear someone say they aren’t sure how much money they have budgeted for the year. This golden nugget of information is the foundation of your finances and lets you calculate how even the smallest purchase will impact your wallet. With more Americans than ever living paycheck-to-paycheck, a lot of people are happy enough “eyeballing it” which doesn’t really cut it when every dollar counts. Imagine if everyone used this strategy.
Aside from the basics – like how to write a check, fill out a deposit slip, and manage a simple budget – it would be extremely helpful to touch on more advanced topics such as credit scores, financing, mortgages, stock & bond markets, Social Security & Medicare, and how to complete a simple tax return. These are subjects that a lot of adults don’t even have a firm grasp on and they can sink you quicker than the Lusitania if you’re not careful.
The financial market today is also a lot more complex than it used to be. The biggest challenge of this century will be our generation’s dual responsibility to pay for our kids’ college educations and support our parents when Social Security runs out. This puts even more pressure on sound investing and retirement planning.
Not to be confused with that essentially useless class Phys. Ed.
Fitness Education would take over where Phys. Ed falls depressingly short. Sure it’s important to learn how to develop teamwork but Phys. Ed. still doesn’t teach you the most important aspects of “physical education.” For example, Fitness Education’s focus would be to promote healthy weight management, diet, exercise techniques, and proper form to reduce injury. It would almost be like a Phys. Ed. and Health class hybrid. Sure, I already know what some of you are thinking here:
But at a time when the media constantly bombards us with new diet plans, conflicting health tips, and misleading nutrition information, it’s more important than ever to have a system in place to educate people about the choices they make. Showing teens how to lay out workout routines, set up healthy exercise schedules to meet fitness goals, and perfect their exercise form to reduce injuries is a big deal. And the earlier we begin the better!
This is a more controversial class, but I’ll explain why it’s important in a moment. Multimedia Arts is the digital version of the high school art class we’ve all grown to love. WAIT, did I say love? I meant despise with every last inch of our tortured souls! Seriously, if I had to draw any more cylinders or box shapes to emulate “perspective” and “shading”, I would have probably gone insane. Art is a class where I honestly believe the right teacher is everything and I was held down by the system.
Multimedia arts would include helpful tutorials on Photoshop, Website Design, Beginners Photography, Simple GIF/Flash Animation, and Music/Video Editing. The importance of this class is giving the next generation the tools they will need to succeed in a high tech business setting where paint brushes and collages are outdated by magic wand tools and brush filters. Moving images will become more and more important as advertisers compete for our attention. Another important reason to include this class is to show the capability of programs to distort the truth. Sometimes what you see is just not what you get.
Now for the final class, the most important of them all!
The most important job our brains have is the ability to weigh alternatives and think critically about a situation. Judgment calls are not always easy and sometimes there isn’t just one easy answer. Students – especially those between middle school and sophomore year of high school – are pigeonholed into short answer, multiple choice, and true/false question tests. This limits the ability of a student’s mind to expand and think about how to measure a problem, analyze the alternatives, and make the best choice. For example, in multiple choice questions you are confined to only the teacher’s way of thinking. What you see when you get out in the real world is a whole plethora of possibilities, answers, and alternatives. In fact, I can honestly say I never “thought critically” from an education standpoint until I entered college.
Conceptual thinking could take a statistics or math-based approach by giving a student an example of something and showing them how to logically draw different conclusions from it. A good example might be an ethics case where students have to weigh in on a problem where several different parties are involved and all have different stakes in the outcome. Being able to discuss effectively, argue respectfully, and make a point concisely are all really important skills to have in a democracy, but they are not really taught at the most basic levels. Being able to frame the scenario and choose the details which will give you the most accurate response for the question you are trying to answer creates an atmosphere of open thinking which eventually benefits everyone because it brings better ideas and brainstorming sessions to the table.
Now if only they had a class in high school to teach me how to program my DVR…