Things I Wish I had Learned in High School

Sometimes, I wish that I had a broader high school education.  I appreciate everything that I’ve learned, but I’ve noticed holes in my education that a more complete curriculum might have filled.  There are some steps being made to ensure that all students in the US get a complete education, such as the No Child Left Behind law, but even that is rather limited in scope, covering only math and English.

It’s a good start, and math and English are definitely skills that everyone needs.  But I can think of plenty of skills that students should have before they graduate:

1) Personal Finance – Pretty obvious for a PF blog, but let’s be honest: the average level of knowledge about money management in the USA is crummy, and the lack of any financial information being presented in the schools doesn’t help.  I don’t expect every high school graduate to be qualified as a CFO, but being able to balance a check book, evaluate investments, and create a basic asset allocation are the sort of things that everyone needs to do, but most people can’t.  That should change.

2) Basic Organic and Bio-Chemistry – I’ll admit, I’m biased on this one; being a biochemist myself, I think that people should know more about my professional area.  But I do have some logical to back up my opinion: we are all biological entities.  If you ever take any drugs, being able to read through the chemical structure and have some understanding of the effects of the medication will make it that much easier to make informed decisions about your health.

3) Civics – Let’s be honest, most Americans are far too uninformed about how our system of government works.  While most high schools offer civics or social studies, it often gets pushed off to the side, not emphasized in any way.  (And in the case of my high school, taught by the football coach, who very clearly would rather be coaching.)  Adding a civics section to the required graduation tests would help to make sure more people have an understanding of the US government.

4) Foreign Languages – Most Americans can only speak English (and sometimes just barely at that).  But with the ever-increasing pace of globalization, a good way for us to stay competitive is to expand the number of students who graduate being able to understand at least one foreign language.  (Possibly more than one, but let’s take this a step at a time).

While we’re considering foreign languages, we should also look into expanding the selection of languages available for study in our high schools.  A short list of languages that could be tested:

– Spanish (Given that most of the Western Hemisphere speaks Spanish, this one is practically a no-brainer)

-German, French, Italian (The Big Three European languages after Spanish, these would make fine additions to the testing material)

-Russian (The Cold War may be over, but they are still a major world power.)

-Japanese (A major trading partner, plus bonus points for the otaku love!  Sorry, little bit of geek humor.  (Bonus points to anyone who gets the reference.))

-Mandarin, Hindi and Portuguese (The official languages of China, India and Brazil, respectively, these languages are helpful for understanding some of the biggest emerging market countries.)

-Arabic (The main language of many Middle Eastern countries, it could be very helpful given the current geopolitical environment.)

These are just some of the suggestions I would make to have our schools test useful, real-world skills.  How do you think we should test our graduating seniors?

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