"Argumentative: Practical & Realistic Skills in Secondary Education"
College Writing 1, Dr. Jordan Canzonetta
How many people have their whole lives figured out? If you’re thinking yes, no you don’t, you’re lying to yourself. There’s really no shame in saying no, after all it isn’t anyone’s fault, especially not yours. Even many grown adults don’t know what their life is yet. We’re all just taking this whole life thing one day at a time. But there are definitely some things that schools can do to help us out with that process. And that is why practical and realistic skills need to be taught in high school. As students, there are surely some things we wish we learned before we graduated high school. Practical skills should be more heavily focused on, as students are not prepared for abilities after graduation, including monetary/technological skills, as well as psychologically/physically/mentally demanding situations.
There are many critical skills that students need to learn prior to the next chapter in their lives. (Refer to Figure 1) In The Future of Learning by TeachThought.com, a 2013 article, Jennifer Rita Nichols states that educators “constantly strive to prepare our students for the ‘real world’ that exists around them… But what lies ahead for our students in the future? Did educators of twenty years ago know that so much of our world would be based on computers and technology now? Could they have known what skills would be needed in the job market today? (Nichols, 2013)” In other words, the current education system is beyond outdated. According to Figure 1, these seven skills, including realistic problem solving and leadership, are crucial to life outside of high school and must be more heavily touched upon by educators. As a result, there exists the question of whether teachings of practical skills should or should not be present in the school setting. (Refer to Figure 2) In a 2021 article by SchoolEducationGateway, Survey on Preparing Young People for Everyday Life in Society, participants gave their feedback. They were asked five questions, one of which being, “To what extent do you agree/disagree with the statement: ‘Everyday life skills such as cooking, finance, and navigation are naturally acquired and therefore do not need to be taught in school?’” As seen in Figure 2, most participants have a negative perspective on this statement and not even 16 percent have a positive standpoint.
With that being said, we can discuss how schools don’t focus on each student, and how they can change that. The current education system does not adequately touch upon critical information necessary for life outside of school, without accommodating students at an individual level, and it should rather focus more on each student. In one way, knowledge in the school setting is often viewed in a different way. In Margaret L. Hilton’s 2012 book, Education for Life and Work, knowledge and skills are typically measured with tests of general cognitive ability, often referred to as IQ. More specifically, tests focusing on school subjects or work-related content. An SAT score should not, and does not, accurately judge a person’s ability to perform well in their career. One may be book smart, but not be smart in everyday skills, and vice versa. The education system focuses on the school as a whole, rather than the student individually. While some may argue that it is easier and more reasonable to accommodate all students collectively, it is more detrimental to students. Yes, at first glance one may think, “How can a high school adjust to every student out of a population of two, three, four thousand?” Do they just get two, three, four thousand teachers? No, they shouldn’t. But they should teach subjects and skills that are of interest, and relevant, to students and their futures.
Schools now focus more on scores and memorization. This led to the typical high school day of us scrambling to do homework during lunch, and cram for a quiz during passing period. Information goes in one ear, do homework and take an exam, then out the other ear. American high schools should teach comparably to other foreign schools, which focus on creativity, imagination, and realistic problem-solving, as well as what the student loves to do. Do you really think it’s fair that a star football player should be ineligible because he’s failing English? Or an art major being ineligible for scholarships because she failed her math classes? There are many lessons taught in school that are virtually useless to students post-graduation.
In a 2019 article, Most Americans Believe School Should Be More Practical, a survey was conducted by the New York Post. (Refer to Figure 3) The survey shows the top five lessons that have little to no importance to students after high school. As seen, a significant chunk of participants believe that these lessons do not pertain to their needs. It can be argued that these can be relevant in everyday life or in students’ future careers, however not everyone will use these. The study of rocks can be useful when majoring in Geology. The Pythagorean Theorem can be useful, however, only to specific careers such as architecture, carpentry, and engineering. Similarly, knowing the periodic table and atomic structure is useful for chemists and physicists. Although these lessons cater to some careers, they should not be required for graduation, if a majority of other students won’t use them.
With schools not focusing on their individual students, there are several other skills in life that can and should be taught. Students need to learn how to handle situations regarding money and technology. In Kelly Cassidy’s 2018 article in the Journal of Education Issues, a survey was taken amongst students. One student said in frustration, “Why don’t any teachers teach this? It’s so dumb.” “What’s a credit score? I know it’s important but I don’t really know what it is.” As we all know, having good credit is one of the most important parts of living in today’s world. How can we have a good credit score if most students do not even know what that is? (Refer to Figure 4) In a survey by the National Financial Educators Council (NFEC), lessons in financial literacy provide more benefits than typical high school subjects. Small portions of participants agree that basic subjects are more beneficial. However, over half insist that teaching money management would be more advantageous. Coming out of high school, many independent young adults are stuck and clueless on ironically, how to be independent. Students should be educated on how to save, spend, invest, and manage their money. Students should also be taught how to handle technological situations. There must be more education on technology, especially in today’s world.
Students should know what to do if a certain form of technology is or isn’t available, and how to go about the situation with/without it. They should also learn the impacts of technology and what it does to a person and society, beneficially and negatively. Without individual teaching, none of these skills would even be of interest to these students. According to Nikki Watson in her 2019 book, Life Skills and Career Coaching for Teens, barriers in school engagement hinder students from reaching their potentials. With lack of technological knowledge, especially in the modern world, students would be stuck, especially in their workplace. This can lead to loss of motivation, enjoyment, and dreams in their desired careers.
In addition to handling monetary and technological situations, students should also learn how to control skills pertaining to them personally. Students need to be educated on how to handle certain situations psychologically, physically, and socially. Firstly, Teachers do not adequately educate students on more important communication skills. According to Esther Usó-Juan’s 2006 book, Current Trends in the Development and Teaching of the Four Language Skills, “Listening should be the first aspect to be tackled in the language classroom… reception should precede production.” Listening isn’t heavily touched upon in post-secondary education, besides when we used to watch movies and do worksheets, but even then that was more of a visual skill. Rather, the high school curriculum focuses more on reading and writing, and presentations, instead of listening skills. According to Simon Ozer’s 2020 article in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, students must be able to handle interactive situations regarding all communication skills. This would be important in the job setting, college, making connections, talking to authorities and even simple situations such as being at the store. (Refer to Figure 5) In a survey taken by an unknown source, participants were asked to express how prepared they felt after high school. Nearly half stated that they believed high school prepared them for both college and work. While that may be the largest group among the rest, it is not too great of a number when given a second thought. If your boss told you that everyone has to work overtime on a Sunday, but only half are getting paid, would you even come in? As well as communication skills, students do not fully learn how to handle physically and mentally demanding situations. In Life Routes, a 2006 book by Roger Bullock, “Research shows that emotions can hinder or promote learning… Many vulnerable young people find it hard to name the feelings they are having because they haven’t learned the right word, or because their emotions seem too complex to describe.” Many students do not know how to express themselves and how they are feeling, as well as how to respond to those feelings. At the same time, tying in with mental vulnerability, students do not know how to handle physical situations. According to the same book by Roger Bullock, paying attention to body signals, and linking the body’s signals to feelings increases our “feelings'' vocabulary. Students aren’t fully educated on the importance of staying physically and mentally healthy, and how to maintain that health especially during rough times in life.
Geoff Pilkington said, “I didn’t learn any life survival skills in school, like taxes and budgeting, but I can still definitely say I know the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.” With that being said, there are many ways that people, like you and I, can make a change to the education system. We can encourage appeals to local political figures, or even the local school board. If needed, petition for greater funding for this change to be made possible. Overall, the education system does not do enough to teach students, including monetary and technological skills, and psychological, physical, and social abilities. Schools should more adequately adapt to students and teach them said skills. As stated, schools focus more on grades, which do not measure the true capabilities of students. Some of the things that can be measured, such as scores, are not always important. On the other hand, many of the important things in life cannot be measured. Albert Einstein encompasses this by stating, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Bullock, R., & Wood, S. (2006). Life routes: A practical resource for developing life skills with vulnerable young people. National Children’s Bureau. https://web.p.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=8534e812-be37-4ca2-93fc-
Cassidy, K., Franco, Y., & Meo, E. (2018). Preparation for adulthood: A teacher inquiry study for facilitating life skills in secondary education in the United States. Journal of Educational Issues, 4(1), 33-46. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1172806.pdf
L. Hilton, M., & W. Pellegrino, J. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. National Academies Press. https://web.p.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=4897ce60-411d-47e6-973c-af9a1d6a69c1%40redis&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPXNzbyZzaXRlPWVob3N0LWxpdmUmc2
Ozer, S., & Bertelsen, P. (2020). The moral compass and life skills in navigating radicalization processes: Examining the interplay among life skills, moral disengagement, and extremism. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 61(5), 642-651. https://web.p.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?
Usó-Juan, E., & Martínez-Flor, A. (2006). Current trends in the development and teaching of the four language skills. M. de Gruyter. https://web.s.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=ee34c68d-66e1-45c3-9e74-85b872fec03a%40redis&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPXNzbyZzaXRlPWVob3N0LW
Watson, N. (2019). Life skills and career coaching for teens: A practical manual to supporting school engagement, aspirations and success in youth people aged 11-18. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. https://web.p.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=ea685ca3-5f3e-4ce9-8679-00a0fb5d826b%40redis&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPXNzbyZzaXRlPWVob3N0L