My sons can engage successfully in Socratic debate, argue compellingly that philosophic giant Immanuel Kant was a behaving like a “pedantic child” when he wrote about sex and marriage, and create multimedia presentations that look worthy of network news.
They are not exceptional and not alone. The same could be said for many high school students in the Washington area.
I have complete confidence that their education is preparing them very well for college; it’s whether they are prepared for life that worries me.
Let’s start with the fact that I’m now going through the grueling process of spending 60 hours in the car with my son Andrew as he learns to drive. (Regular readers may remember that I wrote about this process — several times, in fact — with my son Christopher, who is now a fully licensed driver.)
People who think that the presidency ages people and cite Barack Obama’s graying hair really should look at before-and-after pictures of the parents of teenage, would-be drivers.
In the past 20 years, public school systems have abandoned the idea of teaching high-schoolers to drive. Gone are the driving simulators, gory crash-scene movies and on-the-road instruction with the P.E. teacher that many of us grew up with.
There are lots of good reasons, including the high cost of driver’s ed and a need to focus on other educational initiatives, for dropping it. But the result is that a child can go through the public education system without a skill that is pretty much required for getting around in the outside world.
It was during a recent driving session that Andrew shared that driving isn’t the only life skill he feels deficient in. “I really wish I better understood how things like credit cards and checkbooks work,” he said.
Next week, my twin sons will turn 17, which somehow seems like a whole lot more than just a year older than 16. That birthday gets a lot of attention, what with Sweet 16 parties and driver’s licenses, but there’s something inexorable about 17: Adulthood is around the corner; there is simply no stopping it.
But as we get ready to unleash our kids on the world, don’t they need to have a basic understanding of how that world operates? After a seemingly endless political campaign about tax rates and the cost of health care, how many kids understand that if they are lucky enough to make $50,000 a year when they get out of college, that doesn’t mean that they get $50,000 to spend as they see fit?
Isn’t teaching kids about balancing a checkbook at least as important as using the Pythagorean theorem? Christopher could probably explain to me the physics behind the internal combustion engine, but I taught him how to jump a stalled battery and check the oil in said engine.
To be fair, some school systems do have such classes as part of their curriculum. Montgomery County offers high-schoolers an elective called “Quantitative Literacy.” Yes, the name is enough to turn any kid off, which is a shame because it covers such things as saving and investing, loans and credit, creating a household budget and, my favorite, “the aspects of probability and chance in everyday life.”
My problem is that it’s an elective. And kids who have schedules crammed with AP, Honors and IB classes designed to impress college admissions directors are unlikely to take a course that would do something so mundane as help them live in the real world.
At my sons’ school, nobody graduates without taking a computer keyboarding class (basically typing) because it’s considered an essential life skill. It seems to me that schools, both public and private, are teaching far too few of those.
I’d love to hear from you about what you wish your high-schooler would be taught to prepare him or her for the real world. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from Tracy Grant: