What are kids learning these days? Is it the same stuff we were learning back in highschool? Does that make much sense any more?
Certainly, the basics should always be taught, and there’ll be some things that barely change, but the pace at which things happen in today’s world technologically, politically and socially show us that highschool curriculums need to evolve as well.
Chris Brogan ponders this very question (interestingly enough through Twitter) and here’s my answer. This is important for all of us because we’re the ones changing the face of the planet. And we should do a better job equipping those that come after us in handling that change and benefiting from it.
- Entrepreneurship. Not every student will become an entrepreneur, but teaching entrepreneurship would be a great way to instill passion, creativity, critical thinking and interest in a lot of students. Plenty of students are disengaged in school because they’re dreaming of something bigger and better; teaching entrepreneurship can help challenge those interests.
- Journalism. It’s a safe bet that every kid out there will blog, or publish their ideas, news, insights, feedback, etc. in some form or other online. With that in mind, highschools should teach formal journalism to help students improve their structured writing. Journalism also covers areas of interviewing, communication, critical thinking, judgment, balanced reporting, ethics and more.
- Economics. I had to wait until university to take economics courses, unless you count basic accounting. Basic accounting is so boring it will put anyone off from caring about economics. Students should understand the fundamentals of macro and micro economics. Tie it easily with entrepreneurship: angel investing, venture capital, etc. Tie it easily with today’s realities: the stock market, dot com crash, and so on. This shouldn’t start with accounting, it should start with a greater understanding of how money is made and managed.
- Personal Finances & Investing. Having a world view of how money works is great, but at the end of the day it comes down to what’s in your pocket and what you do with it. Kids have a hard time looking long term into the future, but they need a better handle on managing their own money and understanding the basics of investing. Show kids how they can put a couple bucks per month into an RRSP at an early age and it’ll be worth millions when they retire and you’ll spark some interest.
- Ethics. This was suggested by Whitney Hoffman of LD Podcast and it’s a great idea. Some highschool classes will tackle issues around ethics, but I think kids would be very interested in getting to the meat of this wide ranging subject. Let them grapple with complex issues, debate, exchange ideas and push themselves to think beyond their cozy boxes. And ethics ties so easily with a host of other subjects: entrepreneurship, journalism, economics, etc.
- Technology & Social Media. Most highschool students will be familiar with MySpace, Facebook, blogging and so on, but why not get a class going on these very subjects and how they’re changing the world we live in? Maybe there aren’t any highschool teachers capable of handling this, which would be a shame. What many of us live and breathe daily is being picked up by younger generations haphazardly, and there’s some fun and advantage to that, but it should be put in context of greater world issues – security, privacy, technological advancement, globalization, entertainment…
- Personal Brand Development. Highschool students are going through an incredible time of self-discovery and understanding of how they want to fit into the world around them. Understanding the concepts of personal branding (and ancillary to that marketing, sales, networking, communication) would be an interesting way to help students understand the importance of how they get their message across, how they’re perceived, and what they can do to further develop themselves as individuals. There are many life lessons to be learned in the concepts of personal branding.
- Psychology. I don’t think we give highschool students enough credit. And that’s one of our biggest mistakes. Teaching elements of psychology – developmental (again, suggested by Whitney!), perceptual, cultural – would be an amazing eye opener for a lot of kids. Highschools often lament the lack of physical education they’re providing (resulting in fat, unhealthy kids) but we seem to completely ignore healthy minds.
- Politics & Conflict Resolution. There are some classes related to politics and world issues in highschool, but they’re lacking. Politics isn’t about the structure of a political system (How many seats are there in the Senate? Name every President or Prime Minister and the years they were in power.) Politics (love it or hate it) is a fundamental force in the world. Combined with teaching conflict resolution and mediation, we can raise kids with a bigger awareness of the world’s complexity, but with an eye to helping and fixing problems. Too many people (let alone highschool students) have an “It’s not my problem, it’s someone else’s problem” attitude. Um…
- Religion & Faith. Controversial for sure, but I’m not suggesting we teach kids one specific religion or faith. Teach all of them. Give kids an understanding of how other religions and faiths work, how they originated, how they differ. A few lightbulbs will go off in those classes and kids will realize that most faiths and religions are almost identical. You mean, we’re all kinda, like, the same?
I’d also love to see more pure technology training in highschool – programming classes and the such that don’t involve COBOL or other ancient languages. Isn’t there a way we could teach kids how to code in Ruby, or design websites and blogs using CSS?
There are plenty of big problems with our educational systems – often under-funded, under-appreciated, railed on, etc. But there’s also a clear lack of innovation in many places and a difficulty with locked-in, old school curriculums that don’t (or can’t?) adapt to the changing world fast enough.