I have ideas about things. You probably know that by now. I’m a big thinker, a problem-solver. And if you want to talk about a problem that needs to be solved, it’s the education system in the U.S.
We’ve fallen behind our European and Asian cousins, and we’ve stayed there. Not cool. But the powers-that-be seem to be at a loss for how to fix it. We’ve instituted programs that have fallen flat. Money has been wasted. But we’re doing the same thing and expecting different results. How ’bout we change things?
I’m taking my org. management degree and applying it to the education system. I’ve been pondering this problem for a while, and here are a few changes, mostly aimed at high school education, that I think would get us started in the right direction:
1. Pay teachers more. I know, right? Seems like a no-brainer. We know the people who are educating the next generation are seriously underpaid. And we’re okay with that? We shouldn’t be. If we want quality teachers, we need to have a large applicant pool to draw from. And to get that pool, we have to incentivize the position. Make teaching a quality career choice, not a service akin to volunteer work. Make it a position of prestige. If we want tons of good teachers, we have to pay for them.
2. Teach life skills. While analyzing the themes in The Scarlet Letter is useful for critical thinking, it’s not going to help a student balance a checkbook. Whether a high school student is going straight to college or into the workplace, there is a set of life skills he/she needs to know. Like budgeting, how to manage a credit card, basic cooking skills, the voting process, how to write a resume, basic nutrition/fitness. We’re sending students into the world who have decent book knowledge, but little understanding of how to function as an adult. Doesn’t that seem like a problem to anyone else?
Some of the most important information I learned during my high school years (like writing application essays and interview tips) didn’t occur during school but in after-school activities, some of which were special programs not available to everyone. That knowledge shouldn’t be reserved for the top ten in the class. Everyone could benefit.
3. Offer educational tracks. When I was in high school, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with the rest of my life. But I knew it wouldn’t involve high-level math or science. Most students know where their abilities lie. So use that. I propose two tracks: English/history or math/science. Give the English/history students the basic science and math they need to know, and then release them to delve into history and English. And vice versa for the math/science students.
The worst thing you can do is force a student to learn something they know will be of no use to them in the future. Because when they don’t care and don’t want to be there, it affects the other students in the classroom. Having two tracks will allow students to focus without becoming too specific, and will still provide that general knowledge we think is so important.
We’ve got to stop pretending that high school students should learn for learning’s sake. That might’ve worked in elementary and middle schools, but the kids are growing up, folks. “You should learn it just because it might be useful one day” isn’t going to fly with the almost-adults of the Google generation. Let go of the “I decide what you should know” approach and let students have a little control. Most of them aren’t dumb.
Those are only three of my suggestions. I’ve got more. But you’ll have to come back on Thursday to read the rest. In the meantime, what do you think? What was your high school experience and what would you change?