Schooling versus Education

On June 28 Greg Dingle, a recent high school graduate, published an article entitled “School’s a good place to leave” in our local newpaper. I felt that Greg expressed exactly my sentiments about the high school curriculum. After a teacher wrote in to criticize Greg’s opinion, saying he hadn’t had enough life experience to judge whether his studies would be helpful, I also wrote an article to support Greg. I’m reproducing it here for Island Parent readers, to help those of you whose children are in high school to think about the meaning of their education.

“I graduated from high school in 1957, and my youngest child graduated this year, so I’m familiar with the curriculum back then and now, and it basically hasn’t changed. Elementary school is very helpful. We learn to read, write, do basic arithmetic, and coordinate our bodies through physical education – essentials without which we couldn’t get by in life. But the higher we go in school, the more irrelevant the curriculum becomes. Why is everyone forced to study algebra, geometry and Shakespeare at the age of 17? Personally, all these subjects interest me – but they should be optional fields of study which people can choose to take as part of their higher education.

“I wouldn’t mind these esoteric interests being in the high school curriculum (as electives) if the school system also provided the basic life skills kids need before venturing out into the adult world. Where are the courses on conflict resolution? Budgeting? Parenting? Purchasing wisely? We need to have mandatory high school courses in all these things. Word processing and basic computer use should also be compulsory rather than optional. In grade 12 I bullied my school into allowing me to take introductory typing, something they never considered for me since I was their academic star pupil. I look back at it as the only truly useful course I took in high school.

“And why are the “academic” courses restricted to hard science, history and geography, English, and French? Where are all the other subjects which give important perspective on our world – psychology, anthropology, economics, philosophy, and so on? Yes, a few kids, like my son, are fascinated by chemistry, but many more would be interested in courses which help them understand what makes people and society tick.

“I am a clinical psychologist, and have done considerable work with families and children of all ages. The major developmental needs of adolescence are to develop skill in social relations and to establish competence in practical living, in preparation for adulthood. Why don’t we teach them these things? They’d like school a great deal better, would be more motivated to learn, and hopefully would come out of school equipped for life.”

After I published this article in the Times Colonist, a woman phoned me to say she agreed with everything I’d said, except she thought that basic home maintenance should also be compulsory, so that students came out of high school knowing how to change a tire or a light bulb. And Sherry Dubetz, a counsellor at Mount Douglas high school, wrote to me to say that the Career and Personal Planning (Capp) course she teaches is now mandatory for graduation. Apparently Capp covers many of the topics I suggested, but “the implementation of the curriculum has been varied and scattered resulting in often very negative experiences for students … Administrators and teachers have, in many schools, made this an ‘add-on’ course which has frequently been ‘dumped’ on uninterested, untrained, inexperienced teachers. As a result, both students and parents are all too often resentful that Capp must be completed and look for ways to circumvent taking the course. What a crime that the very course which could make such a difference in their lives is given such short shrift!! You can be sure that many parents do not look at Math, Chem or Physics in the same way!”

So, parents of teenagers, when your kids say that school is boring or irrelevant to life, listen to them. Although you must help them graduate in order to move ahead in life, acknowledge that they might be right. Support your school in having the Capp program taught by teachers who understand its significance and are able to make it interesting to kids. Support your kids in learning about life, wherever that learning may come from. And remember, Mark Twain said “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

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