Why Don’t They Teach us What Matters in School?

Tonight my daughters and I were watching the College World Series games on ESPN. We were excited because my alma mater UCLA was playing and the game was a nail biter. The conversation took several turns but eventually we started talking about the kind of grades and SAT/ACT scores one needs to get into UCLA since both girls want to apply there. Unprompted and uninterrupted by me, this led to a discussion between the girls about how so much of what one learns in middle and high school is irrelevant.  The 12 year old wondered how her knowledge of Dalton, Avogadro and the laws of chemical reactions would help her live a happy and successful life. The 16 year old wondered why the Pythagorean Theorem mattered at all. When I asked what they thought they needed to learn, they rattled off a pretty cool list:

  • Interest Rates
  • Foreclosures
  • Mortgages
  • Checkbook Balancing
  • Renting an apartment
  • How to Prepare to Vote in an Election
  • How to do their taxes
  • What taxes are used for
  • How to invest and save money
  • What the stock market is and how it works

Towards the end of the conversation, my 16 year old made a very interesting comment that struck a chord. She said, “You know mom, only a few people will need to know advanced math or the three causes of World War 1 for their careers but EVERYONE will need to know how to buy a house, build a savings account and deal with their taxes. Why don’t they teach us the things that really matter in school.”

When I was a senior at Burbank High School, we had a class taught by wonderful Mr. North. It was called On Your Own and we learned about pretty much everything my girls listed above.  Why don’t we have classes like that anymore? In fact, why don’t we let kids design curriculum? They know what they need to learn. We should listen to them more. That is all.

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