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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

No Test Left Behind

A post on 43 Folders today linked in turn to a Brian Kim post about things that schools should be teaching: personal finance, communicating effectively, social skills, sales (yuck!), and time management. While I think the important things about sales would be covered in communicating and social skills (which themselves are heavily related), there’s some good points to chew on here.

I responded in part to the 43 Folders post: “On one hand, I find myself wishing I'd been taught time management in high school — on the other, I probably would have (as Kim says) regurgitated the answers to pass the class then promptly forgotten about it.” Another response thought that school should teach kids how to change a tire and iron a shirt.

While it’s certainly a valuable life skill, time management just wasn’t relevant for me in those days. School days were pretty well planned in advance: I’d get up, eat, catch the bus to school, go to classes, ride the bus home, do housework and homework (what little I didn’t finish in study hall or history class), eat supper, run 5 miles (I was on the cross-country team), then usually do what I pleased in those 2–3 hours before bedtime (the softball field a couple blocks away in season, reading or messing with electronic equipment otherwise).

Time management and personal finance might be more relevant to kids these days than it was for my generation. Like many of us, today’s kids tend to have more discretionary income and less time. But when I was in school, “home ec'” (as we usually called it) was primarily a cooking class — even then, I wondered where the "economics" part of it went. We learned more about money management in shop class, where we had an assignment to list what tools we would/could buy with $100 then had to justify our choices. But if there is an existing class that would be ideal to cover these topics, home ec' is it.

Of course, today’s NCLB-driven schools are focused primarily on teaching kids how to pass standardized tests — and doing very little to teach useful life skills. Nowadays, they don’t even give kids time to visit their lockers between classes… if they’re even assigned lockers. Instead, they drag around knapsacks loaded with 30 pounds of books and other materials (I'm not exaggerating). How could you even teach them time management when you don’t even give them the time to do the planning that’s a part of it? Where in this avalanche of SAT cramming is there time for learning real necessities like basic home and auto maintenance, meal planning (including nutrition and cooking), writing, or planning a budget? Today’s school curriculum is well-suited for anyone who can afford servants or contract labor for such things, but 99% of the kids are getting short-changed.

Daughter Dearest had a finance job for a few months, entering stuff into QuickBooks for a small local company and helping with the payroll(!). While she was constantly afraid she’d make an expensive mistake, she probably learned more about bookkeeping and finance during that one afternoon per week than she did in her entire school career. (They amicably parted ways a couple of weeks ago; between school and chorus, there isn’t much afternoon left for work. That may change, now that she can drive herself around.)

Most of the things I can do (and blog about here) are things I learned on my own, either because I was interested (electrical, early on) or needed to fix something (plumbing, much later). No school taught me how to cut and glue pipe, or how to solder. I learned how to cook and clean long before I had home ec' in junior high (not because I wanted to… hi Mom!). I also learned how to type before I had typing class (but this was something I did want to learn). Bookkeeping… now that was practical, I learned how to balance a checkbook in bookkeeping class. As was the basic math that is pretty much a prerequisite. College English was the only humanities class I actually enjoyed in high school, but that was more about honing the writing skills I already had (I learned to type because I wanted to write a novel).

(I’m sure I wrote this once before, but can’t figure out for the life of me where.) In a better world, schools would evaluate each student, identify their talents, and tailor their education to develop those talents (and throw in the basic life skills things I’ve been ranting about). But an intelligent move would raise taxes… OMG, we can’t have that!


  1. My mother always told me that I needed to learn the basics because I may never have a wife to do them for me. I learned to load a washer, cook a meal, scrub a plate, and push a broom, just like my sisters did.

    And they learned to check the tire pressure, check the oil, swing a hammer, etc.

    Equal opportunity household.

  2. Sounds similar to my childhood jeff -- my dad made sure I knew how to change oil, tires, etc.

    I remember home ec and shop -- we were required to take both. But, my schooling was different from many. I had to go to two high schools at the same time (one in morning and then drove 20-30 min to the other in the afternoon) to get the courses I needed to graduate. They didn't offer req'd courses every semester b/c our school was so small (400-500 students). And we didn't have a lot of extras, so forget having special courses for those skills. :)

    Agree w/ you FAR about the communication and social skills aiding in sales.

  3. Oh, and I love 43folders FAR -- as I look at my very own 43folders / tickler file sitting next to me ...

    It's a great site -- I got hooked on the hPDA craze and then moleskines and GTD thanks to that site. :)

  4. I'll have to admit I've shortchanged Daughter Dearest in the auto maintenance department. Like I would have ever gotten her under the car to change the oil anyway. She'd probably crawl under the car if her boyfriend was there though. ;-)


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