How useful was high school?

I look back on what the first 12 years of school were for me and the student leaders in the late 50s:

  1. Reading  We weren’t assigned authors we would have loved like Jack London and Ernie Pyle.
  2. Writing  Spelling, vocabulary, and some grammar lessons were good; but we didn’t write enough.
  3. Math  Besides the basics, what was necessary?  Not algebra, geometry, trigonometry – and they didn’t improve our thinking, as was claimed.
  4. Social studies  (not social ‘science’)History was interesting for some, but left out most of the countries.  We didn’t have enough geography, current affairs, or social problems.
  5. Sports     Overdone.
  6. Other  We took science and language, but didn’t use them.  Art, music, and speech were not academic and could have been after-school ac­tivities.

  We were told little or nothing about: resume writing, job hunting, managing money, tradi­tional values, human nature, corrup­tion, politi­cs, media bias, religi­ous scandals, the gay world, preju­dice, and the pros and cons of joining the military.

  We were not told about maturity in relation to: adolescence, friendship, courting, sex, parent­ing, vice, crime, religion, cults, politics, idealism, and liberal and conservative thinking.

  When it came to college, the prepara­tion wasn’t serious.  We were too busy having fun and becoming ‘well-rounded.’  The last day of school we tore up our notebooks and threw the pages around the halls in celebra­tion.

  At graduation we were inspired and celebrated.  People congratulated us.  Why?  We hadn’t really been chal­lenged.  Much of our schooling was busywork while we grew up.

  How much was useful?  Probably half – the three r’s, some social studies, typing, drivers ed, first aid, and shop.  Perhaps home economics was for the girls.  Though not academic, the clubs, student paper, student govern­ment, and talent shows were useful and great fun.

  After-school sports were a superb outlet for athletes providing conditioning, chal­lenge, competi­tion, recogni­tion, team­work, dis­cipline (and getting yelled at).  For others they provided school spirit, band, drill team, and pep rallies.  Could these drives be harnessed for academic or vocational decathlons and be practical (which is not true of the national spelling bee)?

  If I could change school, I would group students according to achievement, not age, use more lay teachers, and provide vouchers to give families a choice of schools.  Schools would have to compete for students and teachers.

  1. 1)  Traditional values     (basic to maturity.  Students could clean the schools, as in Japan, to learn some of these.)
  2. 2)  Mental health   (courses and counseling – to promote maturity).
  3. 3)  Physical health    (diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol, drugs, pregnan­cy, first aid, longevity, etc.).  Students maintaining good health wouldn’t need P.E.
  4. 4)  Career counseling    (for finding one’s primary interests).
  5. 5)  Apprenticeships  (so students would graduate with marketable skills).
  6. 6)  Practical courses   (geared to the real world).

Many things­ con­tribute to these six categories  – hobbies, clubs, scouts, sports, student government, TV, reading, travel, living in dif­ferent regions, a second lan­guage, summer camp, volunteer and paid work – the list is endless.  Students could be tested and given credit for achievements in these areas.  Everyone would gain – the school by tapping the outside world, the parents for their efforts outside school, and the students in gaining a practical education and a head start.