Schools are Failing Our Sons and Daughters

By Alan Graner

When I returned to teaching as a long-term sub after 15 years in the business world I was shocked at what I found. It was as if I were suddenly thrust into The World That Time Forgot.

No, the schools hadn’t changed; I had.

The teachers were the same—hardworking and dedicated to their students. However, I realized much of what they taught had little relevance in the real world.

Take math, for example. How many of you non-scientist/engineers have ever used geometry or algebra since you left school?

Instead, why not teach finance? You know, practical stuff like how to balance a checkbook, how to create a budget, how to figure out if you’re better off buying a house or renting, how to save enough to live after a layoff.

In English classes, instead of teaching students to contrast and compare some story character, how about teaching them how to write a resume; a coherent cover letter, business memo or email; how to give a persuasive talk.

In history, instead of memorizing dates, teach students to question and analyze history and how they would apply what they learned to today’s problems.

In general, how about teaching students social skills they can use in the workplace such as how to network. How to ask for a raise/promotion. How to develop and present new ideas. How to survive office politics.

Why not throw in some practical vocational classes for students who’ll ever go to college? Subjects such as mechanics or coding or cooking or entrepreneurship.

In short, why not teach students stuff they’ll actually USE in the real world to get ahead and succeed?

I’ll give you three reasons why not:

  • The education system has no desire to change.
  • There isn’t money to fund such a change.
  • Most teachers, God bless ‘em, have little or no practical experience in the real world.

Unfortunately, business as usual isn’t working. Talk to HR professionals and they’ll explain how they must shuffle through hundreds of resumes to find people qualified to fill entry level jobs.

On the other end there are lots of six-figure positions that go unfilled because, again, HR can’t find qualified applicants.

We’re failing our sons and daughters.

It’s time for a change.

Just sayin’.

3 comments

  1. Great points.

  2. The dumbing down of public education is a national disgrace. Now Alan Graner demands instituting even dumber curricula and activities. Behold his vision of education, including teaching students
    • how to write a résumé
    • how to balance a checkbook
    • how to write a cover letter
    • how to ask for a raise
    • how to cook
    • how to save enough to live after a layoff

    The idea that school curricula should focus principally on the immediately applicable, “practical stuff,” social skills, and vocational classes is shortsighted, identifying only short-term classroom activities that often bore students. The student who completes such a rigorous curricula could not save a dime, never acquiring sufficient education to get a job in the first place.

    During my years in higher education, I studied many subjects that lacked an immediate application; for example, existential philosophy, logistic regression, and the downhole heave compensator. These topics were taught by smart, interesting professors with passion for their discipline, all models of good teaching and persons I respected. The result: Their interests often became my interests, perhaps the best indicator of effective teaching. (Regrettably, none of them taught me how to cook.)

    As I young college student, I did not fully appreciate the wisdom of John Dewey as I do now. I recommend others read his works and understand his seminal insights, including this one: “Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself.”

    • You make excellent points…for you. Unfortunately most students aren’t you. Most won’t go to college. Most will enter the work force unprepared for reality.

      Nowhere do I suggest this is the core curriculum. That would be idiotic. Instead, I suggest these skills be taught alongside other required skills like the Three Rs. For example, when I was in elementary school I learned how to make change. Not a major skill, true, but I never needed a machine to tell me how to do it.

      In my father’s day you went to work one day and retired forty years later with a pension and Social Security. In today’s world there’s no such security. I also took philosophy classes in college, and while Camus is one of my favorite authors, he’s never been of particular use in helping me survive four layoffs.

      Finally, this isn’t an either/or situation. It’s a both. Yes, teach students how to write a coherent sentence. Teach American history. Teach math. Introduce students to exciting writers. But also teach them the basic skills they need to survive in the real world.

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