In the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a few days ago I couldn’t help but wonder what it is that we send our youngsters to school for. The most common answer would be to get an education, but in that respect I tend to agree with Albert Einstein, who said that
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
I wonder because not everyone seems to agreee on which should be the priority of our educational institutions. Thus,
- parents seem to focus on safety (especially in Secondary Schools) and food (especially in Elementary Schools)
- students seem to focus on homework, exams and grades
- teachers seem to focus on class management (read discipline) and paperwork
- administrators seem to focus on standardized testing and school rankings
But none of them seem to focus on what happens after students leave school, when they have to be functioning members of our societies -young adults ready to lead meaningful, independent lives, and ready to contribute with their work and their fair share of community building.
For that, I think that schools should focus on teaching real-life skills, those that will be especially relevant after students leave school. Shannon Reed lists a few:
- how to navigate differences: how to work with people who are different from what they’re used to, whether in nationality, gender identity, sexual identity, religion or race
- how money works: things like loans, credit cards or balancing a budget
- how to deal with illnesses: how to care for themselves when they are ill, and where to get help from a medical professional when they need it
- how to manage homesickness: how to make friends and how to face sad and lonely times (if need be)
- how to use their manners: things like holding the door to the library open for the person behind them or saying thank you to the cafeteria workers
I’m sure that all of us could think of a few more: All we need to do is remember those skills that we lacked when we needed them most, such as:
- how to go about renting an apartment
- how to fix minor things at home (such as a leaking faucet)
- how to jumpstart a car
And yet none of this is taught at schools (or, at least, not to me). Although you might argue that this should NOT be taught at school, but at home. You might argue that education should take place at home, while instruction should take place at school. And I would agree with you, heartily.
But these days it seems that <irony>we (society) have delegated that responsibility to schools. We are too busy to take care of the education of our offspring, and schools are better equipped to do that anyway, right?</irony>. The problem is that schools don’t seem to be up to the task, so nobody is taking care of those life-saving skills. Let’s hope that our students at least learn how to swim!