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Family: Eight essential life skills that schools can teach our kids

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Games aren't the only way to learn how to cooperate with others toward a shared goal, but for many students such contests have lifelong importance. Frazier O'Leary teaches Advanced Placement English, one of the toughest courses at Cardozo High School in the District; he is also the baseball coach. "Sometimes it is hard for high school students to understand the value of working together until they grow up and realize that teamwork is essential to success," he said.

4 Exercise

Sarah Melanie Fine, a writer, went for a run every morning when she was teaching in a D.C. school. She needed the exercise to survive tough days. Her students often did not have the same chance. "Particularly in an environment where seat time is the ever-growing end-all, kids desperately need time where they're using their bodies and learning a different kind of discipline," she said. Not only does it relieve stress, but it clears the head for dividing fractions, declining nouns and other feats of concentration.

5 Friendship

Mike Feinberg, co-founder of the Knowledge Is Power Program charter schools, which emphasize character, said an essential ingredient of learning to be a friend is what some call social intelligence or emotional intelligence. It includes "not giving in to peer pressure, becoming self-aware and using that self-awareness to self-adjust as necessary," he said. He acknowledges that many people think this is something parents should teach, but sometimes they don't, and students' futures depend on it.

6 Arguing

Bernstein has a favorite trick for teaching this correctly: "I remember once asking students to prepare a debate, three for the affirmative and three for the negative. When they came into class and I checked that they were prepared, I made them argue the other side, not the one they had prepared. With the exception of the class president, who as a politician did not trust me and thus had prepared both sides, they flopped. And in that failure they learned an important lesson: One is far more effective in debate and discourse when one has thought through both sides of an argument."

7 Thinking critically

I remember that my favorite teacher when I was in high school, Al Ladendorff, encouraged our American history class to criticize the textbook. I wondered: Was that legal? Much later I realized the contrarian habits he taught were vital. I am a better writer, a better voter and a better parent for learning to examine popular assumptions and judge if they are correct.

8 Presentation

"In learning to make a persuasive argument, one has to learn how to address an audience," Bernstein said, "be it one person or a large group." As adults we often learn the hard way how important it is to be prepared, maintain eye contact and dress appropriately for the situation. It is better to learn this in school than while shaking in fear two minutes before our first job interview.


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