Saturday, October 19, 2013

Creating Value in Nonessential Skills in Public Schools

  This will come as no surprise but over the next decade, I suspect that we will see a rise in the amount of backlash from the community against federal over-regulations in education. The Common Core is not a bad idea but the implementation has been poorly executed. In my definition of nonessential, I am using the term to blanket all the classes that do not receive standardized testing, despite the fact that each state incorporates a framework for these classes. Nonessential classes are Art, Gym, Health, Music, Home Economics, and in many cases, Foreign Languages.
  Most public schools do not teach foreign languages until 6th or 7th grade to students who have high grades in English. As if this is some determination that the student has mastered their language and can move onto another. Throughout most of the world, this is not the case. As it it deemed important for students to begin learning a second language at a much younger age due to cultural exchange value. Cultural exchange value? What is that? What I mean by this terminology is that the local culture finds value in a second language because it is present in their community. This is why foreign languages fit in this context.
  I have already discussed the value of nonessential skills being taught to students but there is another argument to this proposition that I just touched upon above, cultural exchange value. The capability of a thriving community is dependent upon the education of their children. With well-developed, cultured, intelligent minds the community can expand or maintain by being able to bring in and create new business and services as needed by the community or the ability to adapt to new ideologies and technology with demand and competition outside the community. Makes sense, right?
  Think about a recent job interview or meeting with people you did not know. You have to establish a connection, right? What topic is it going to be? We know the three taboo things to discuss when meeting new people are religion, politics, and sex. Just don't. What are you going to talk about? How much you love cooking? The latest exhibit at a museum? The most recent Wynton Marsalis release? The fact that you hit a personal goal at the last 5K? You do know that these seemingly simple topics can make that connection and win over your next major account! Why are we not allowing this to be taught in schools anymore? Here is a simple list of some of the benefits of teaching nonessential skills.

  • Knowing basic car maintenance can save you time, money, and energy. 
  • A community that understands basic economics and personal finance creates growth.
  • Knowledge of cooking and gardening creates a better palate which may translate into healthier restaurants.
  • Who doesn't like a community full of beautiful music and art to look at, reflect, and reduce anxieties?
  • A healthy community is a productive community and does not tax the health system. 
  • How about more planning time for teachers so that they can call parents, attend meetings, give back to the community, and work on renewing their license? 
  Sounds good, doesn't it? A strong education background in nonessential subjects reduces dependence on outside resources and cultivates resources within the community.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bringing Non-Essential Subjects Back into the Classroom

  In a class that I am taking at Roanoke College, we have been in the midst of discussing the role of arts, music, dance, and theatre in public school education. Then an interesting thought came to my  mind, more of a remembrance.
  I remember my middle school days. Built into those days, besides the core subjects, were sets of experiences to enhance and enrich our understanding of the world around us. We were exposed to a new home economics experience every term. One term would consist of Nutrition and Cooking, the next term would be Woodworking, the third term would be Sewing, and the fourth term would be Silk Screening/Metalworking.
  There was another experience we had in middle school unlike any other, a one-hour period called Activity. This would change every term as well and we had a list of activities we could choose from. These activities were based on each teacher's area of interest. I learned Knitting, Chess, and worked on the School Newspaper. It allowed us to interact with teachers we don't normally see and we were learning valuable life skills.
  In other words, besides having Art and Music once a week, we also had gym two to three times per week. We had a truly Liberal Arts education in middle school. What happened to these classes?
  As budgets for public schools shrink, programs like these were shutdown. We are now graduating students who can't cook, sew, perform basic maintenance on their homes, or balance their checkbook. The only students receiving this education are attending private schools or homeschool students. With both parents, and sometimes one parent or guardian, students are being left to fend for self and learn the hard way. Most often, this way is filled with mistakes and tougher consequences.
  Which brings me to this question, should public schools be teaching the nonessentials? And are they really nonessential? If private schools think these life skills are important, why are we not doing them in public schools? Private schools do have the advantage of smaller classes and access but so should public schools and public school children. What do you think?