In Junior High I had a class on typing. We meandered to a windowless room full of the clickety-crunch churn of IBM Selectric typewriters, set out in rows on tables. Each had the solid ca-CHUNK keys that let you know that you hit one, even when you became proficient and fast on the things.
It seems like it was the era of the dinosaurs describing it to kids today. They’ve never even seen such a device.
But as antique as it seems, the training was important. I was ready to pick up a computer keyboard and move ahead when they became standard. Like the use of cc: to mean “carbon copy” on an email, the old system trained me well for what was to come next. Old ways often form a bedrock for learning in a world that is redefining itself all the time.
Here is a short list of items I think that we should continue to teach in schools, antique as they may seem. Many simply became lost in the desire to goose standardized test scores, which is pathetic. These are not only still relevant, they may become moreso in surprising ways in the years ahead. And that may point to new ways to teach them, too.
Managing Money – There is some of this still taught in schools, but it seems a bit haphazard. Many kids play a stock market game, and concepts like budgeting are still taught separate from traditional Home Economics. But how many learn how to fill out tax forms? Or start a business? How many people, adults or kids, know that insurance is the bedrock of all financial planning? General ignorance about financial issues holds back many people who get need at the very least how to be good consumers of the many financial products out there. It only gets worse when they want to take a good idea and transform themselves into the next generation of entrepreneur. Making sure they at least know where to start on all these things would make them ready for a productive and happier adulthood.
Mechanics – I’ve covered this one before in great depth as a class that stands as an overview of the Industrial Arts, and I stand by that as at least an option that schools must have. But there may be a need for a more basic introduction at the elementary level. As surely as all people learn in different ways, the kinesthetic or physical learners will pick up a lot of lessons on how the world works just by assembling stuff or fixing bicycles. Some kids do get this, but it’s a big part of our world today. It can open up a curious mind to want to learn more if the neat little desks in neat little rows doesn’t suit their style of learning.
Grammar – I don’t remember how to diagram a sentence. But the basics of how language is put together has fascinated me my whole life. The next generation will encounter people with foreign tongues that they can’t anticipate now, and they will have to deal with people for whom English is a second language. An overview of all languages would be a great way to do this, but at the very least knowing how to put together sentences – or not freezing up when they aren’t put together well by a non-native speaker – will be critical in years to come.
Etiquette – Schools today sadly have to fill the gaps with what’s not taught in homes. Done well, such training can level the field between those who came from disadvantaged households and give them a fair start in life. Knowing how to be gracious and formal may seem old fashioned, but it helps you get a good job. It also helps you to understand foreign customs when you work in or with people from foreign lands who may be more formal in their approach. Many kids who haven’t had a good start in life will appreciate knowing how to greet, eat, and generally act like they came from a better background because they tend to know. And a discussion of when to hold the door open (not just for a lady, but for everyone) could make for a very good side discussion on sexism and racism generally.
Journalism – Not really a lost art, per se, but it’s something I think everyone should learn. Objectivity may be dead, but it’s worth discussing – and a rousing understanding of perspective in news will make for much better consumers of the media. They’ll be better storytellers. It also will help make the next generation better writers if they learn to put the who, what, when, where, and why in the first paragraph of an email. Formal letter writing may be dead, but skill as a journalist may make all the difference in a formal email when you’re asking for a job, a favor, or just an introduction to someone you don’t know.
Cooking – Again, some of this is taught in schools now. But given that many people find food as a gateway to other cultures, learning about food and nutrition can be a way to develop a fascination with other people that will stay for life. It goes with etiquette easily, and it could be a lot of fun all around. It may be best integrated, at least in part, with studies of history and other lands but the basics stand apart. Far too many people don’t know how to cook the most basic things and are largely helpless when they become adults. Besides, it makes for a very intimate yet cheap date, if the kids need some motivation to learn.
This is my short list of six items that I think every kid needs to learn in school. Many are taught a bit haphazardly these days, and most are traditional school items that fell out of favor with standardized testing. But they are all the tidbits that make it easier for everyone, regardless of their family background it the struggles that may define it, ready to master their world.
Have anything to add? I’d love to know your thoughts.