If we truly recognize our schools as the laboratories of society, we must exploit the opportunity to teach skills and reinforce characteristics that are consistently found in our communities' most productive members. As students become older, and ultimately leave high school, there is much less occasion to foist upon a captive audience of impressionable youth the assorted information and insights that can help them with "life skills" and inspire them to maximize their potential.
For the cost of a few hours a week for one semester in either tenth or eleventh grade (or as another curricula module during a semester, as described previously), this curriculum could help prevent the huge societal costs that result when young adults choose the low road in life.
Ideas / Solutions
States should develop coursework in personal responsibility, life skills, and becoming an asset to society. These could include techniques in how to:
- cope with problems,
- select and achieve goals,
- manage stress and disappointment,
- resolve disputes through mediation and other forms of dispute resolution,
- manage money effectively and efficiently,
- select a career and pursue that course, along with tips on entry points into professions and techniques to initiate a career, rather than just finding a job,
- increase one's earning potential,
- identify and avail oneself of opportunities,
- make well reasoned decisions, with sound decision-making techniques,
- build and maintain relationships,
- negotiate in the marketplace and workplace,
- adopt and maintain a positive perspective in the midst of degenerative influences, and
- achieve self satisfaction from one's accomplishments and contributions to the world around them.
The notion of teaching such skills in high school might be criticized as being unnecessary and inappropriate subjects to be taught at school. Critics might complain that these are skills that students should be learning at home or absorbing through the ordinary course of life. While ideally that is true, if that were currently the case, we would not have seen the cataclysmic rises in drug use, criminal activity, gang violence, general malaise, and disenfranchisement among our youth that have occurred in recent decades.
Severe realities necessitate severe action. While this curriculum is not severe in the sense that throwing high school graduates into boot camps would be severe, it does involve a severe departure from business as usual. Yet, a broad swath of parents, neighbors, community members, and even students would probably prefer that emphasis be placed on practical, relevant life-skills at the expense of a little extra practice in calculating cosine curves or memorizing President Millard Fillmore's accomplishments. It is likely to improve today's dismal graduation rates, as students often voice discontent over curriculum that does not appear to tangibly impact their lives. In the absence of innovations such of this, the risks inherent in our further delay portend further decay. Experimentation is far more valuable than procrastination.
To seriously promote personal responsibility, schools could take this effort a step further by empowering its students with some of the responsibility for selecting their own coursework. From the list of life skill techniques delineated above, students could vote on the topics of greatest interest and importance to them, thus setting the priorities for the coursework. By giving students an impact on the curriculum, it would place an unusual responsibility on them for taking their future in their own hands, rather than them being merely the recipients of teaching. Teachers could also be asked to go the extra mile by finding guest speakers on the topics of interest to the students to further fuel their curiosity and enthusiasm. The relevancy to the students of the resulting lessons would be likely to result in higher attendance rates, and hopefully, higher graduation rates.
Any significant steps toward crafting responsible, employable, happy adults are sure to be cost effective. This reality might not have been clear decades ago. However, today we see the Federal government, and most of our State and local governments, struggling desperately to cope with the spiraling costs of law enforcement, incarceration, welfare, food stamps, homeless assistance, medical care for indigents, and many other safety net costs. The only way to cure social ills over the long-term is through cost avoidance, by investment in future adults.
Any dollar invested in bolstering our youth and preparing them with life skills is much better spent than wasting twenty or forty dollars in cleaning up their mess years later