How to Improve Schools’ Course Offerings

One of my biggest pet peeves is the inadequacy of the US educational system.  Unfortunately, we seem to be stuck training young people for an Industrial Age society well into the Information Age.  (Unless we’re in a new age by now; it’s been a while since I’ve learned about the ages of man.)

There are any number of ways to improve the US educational system, some of which I’ve already discussed.  But today, I’d like to take some time and suggest a few course additions that could help the United States to do better in preparing its students for the professional world they face today.  Let’s start back where the whole thing got started:

Elementary School

While elementary school is pretty good at teaching reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic (at least for the most part; I know that books have been written about where the school system or some portion thereof has failed even basic education processes), there’s quite a bit more that people need to succeed in a modern society.  And that type of education should begin in the earliest years of elementary school, with courses like:

-A Foreign Language: Another area where I wish that my education was more substantial (and want to improve my knowledge now that I’m a graduate student myself) is being able to communicate with foreign language speakers.  My school didn’t even offer foreign languages until Junior high school, which puts the US at a disadvantage to many countries that start this education when the students first enter school.  As for the choice of language, Spanish seems like a pretty obvious one, given the demographic trends we face, but depending on the demographic traits of the region where the school is located, French, German, Italian, or Portuguese could make options, as well.

-Basic Computer Skills: I might actually be too late on this one; perhaps every 3rd grader is more proficient at using computers by now than I am.  But a course on typing, using spreadsheets, and other computer usage skills would help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and has the essential skills of the information age.

-Skepticism: Alright, this one might just be my personal hope, but I’d love to see more effort put into teaching students how to ‘Trust, but Verify’, as Reagan put it.  Teaching students how to evaluate research, consider evidence, and determine the motivations behind statements that are made by public figures would definitely be a good thing.  Admittedly, there is something to be said about not crushing childlike dreams, so perhaps this course will have to wait until…

Middle School

Ah, middle school (or junior high, in at least a few more places); not quite old enough to start a part time job, too old to spend all day playing around.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the perfect time to add a few new courses to the curriculum!  A few that could be good include:

-A Second Foreign Language: Yup, that’s right, I’d like to see a world where students have to be tri-lingual to graduate from high school.  While the first round of foreign language education should, I imagine, focus on European languages that are at least somewhat similar to English, given the increasingly global economy and rising importance of non-European countries, language offerings like Mandarin, Hindi, and Arabic would seem more helpful to students’ future prospects.  (Goodness knows, I’d almost be willing to go back to middle school for the chance to learn some of those.  Almost.)

-Personal Finance Basics: Another one of my pet causes, one I’ve written about here and on the Yakezie website, is trying to spread the importance of personal finance education.  Admittedly, the trick is trying to find a curriculum that a majority of parents would approve of, given how much variation there is in the approaches to money management.  As a result, this might be another one we have to move to the next highest school level, in this case…

High School

Ah, the culmination of your years of education (at least up to this point; there’s still a long, long way you could go).  Now, at this point, things start to get more complex; you start dividing up the people in vocational technical and pre-college groups, as well as allowing students more choice in the courses they take.  So, these are more suggestions on courses to add to the curriculum, including:

-Business and Entrepreneurial Basics: Another of the complaints laden on the school system (there are more than a few) is that it is designed to funnel people into the positions as workers, whether white-collar or blue-collar.  There isn’t much (formal) education provided to those who want to be business owners rather than working for others.  If we hope to encourage the future business leaders of the country, providing more information they find useful would be a great start.

-Public Speaking and Expression: One area where people seem to especially struggle is public speaking, and other methods of expressing themselves in front of other people.  Combine that with the nature tendency of many high school age students to be (overly) concerned about what other people think of them, and you have a group that needs public speaking help more than any other.  (A side note: one thing I learned as a public speaking club member in college is that when you are speaking in public, the ones who want to listen to you and hear what you have to say will support you as you talk; the ones that don’t care, simply won’t listen or react.)

There you have it, seven courses (well, six, if you count the foreign languages as a single course suggestion) that would make the US educational system more useful to those getting an education (and more helpful to the country in general).

What courses would you like to see added to an elementary, middle school, or high school curriculum?  What courses do you wish YOU had when you were younger?

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