The three classes missing from your schedule

[Recently installed a keystroke counter on my computer. (Not a keylogger, mind you; a key counter.) What I found was that this story, about 5300 characters in length, actually took some 13,000 characters to type. It just goes to show that the writing process takes a little editing.]

 

The three classes missing from your schedule.

9/15/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

 

 

 

You’re not getting a full education.

I don’t mean to be provocative here. Sure, there are seven courses (or even eight) in your school day; sure, you’re assigned homework for and tested on each one. What I mean to say is that your schedule has a few gaps in it. Cracks that increasingly few schools are willing to fill in.

Ever since standardized tests became trendy in education, institutions across the country have been shedding extracurriculars like dogs shed hair. Though many of these course cuts are understandable, a good deal are hard to excuse.

The following list mentions just a few classes I feel are worth the extra budget money and decreased SOL prep time to introduce. Disagree if you will, but remember—it’s your education.

 

I’ll start with that time-honored elementary school staple: geography. The word brings to memory images of fifth graders spinning around a globe with a list of countries on the desk. And yet, geography entails much more than finding Moldova on a map. It’s about understanding the nature of borders, learning how physical resources impact a country’s development and studying human influence on the environment. Taking a class in the subject is like studying environmental science, natural history and culture at the same time.

    In the eyes of most superintendents, though, high school education is no place for geography. The results are visible. I just finished watching two CNN map clips; the first put Pakistan in East Africa, and the second mistook Syria for Afghanistan. (More eye-opening yet is the Texas weatherman who confused southern California and south Florida.) With all due respect to Mississippi, it seems the rest of the country doesn’t give it much notice; in a 2006 Associated Press story, nearly half of our generation couldn’t locate it on a map. According to the same poll, three fifths couldn’t find Iraq. Wasn’t this supposed to the globally aware generation?

    We don’t even need a separate geography course, for that matter. It would be perfectly fine to integrate the subject with World History or Earth Science. Whatever course of action the county takes, our superintendent needs to realize that, to have a “globally aware” society, we need to be aware of the globe.

    

    Thanks to pressure from the SOL, SAT and other acronyms, high schools today offer plenty of ways to teach students what to type. But how about a class that teaches kids how to type?

    With the computing era in its middle ages, almost all of us have been exposed to the benefits of computers. To be able to type up reports and stories on a keyboard instead of a typewriter (or by hand, of course) is one of the great things about today’s technology.

    Unless one can touch type (write without having to look at the keys), though, many of the benefits of this “information age” are wasted. If you’re the type who taps out letters with two fingers, you probably average some thirty words a minute. That’s not horrible. And yet, should you learn to type without having to look at the keys, your speed could easily be doubled or tripled. That certainly was the case for me.

    This is one subject that can be learned outside of school, of course. But any kid who doesn’t have the initiative to learn typing skills puts her or himself at a great disadvantage. If our schools really are intent on giving us a superb writing education, high school typing courses are a must.

 

    The final class I suggest is the one about which I feel the strongest. This may seem strange, especially because the course I suggest is to have no course at all.

    Independent study, the hallmark of liberal arts colleges and some private schools, is the one class in a schedule that beats out the standardization game. If a student is a budding musician, he or she can spend the period in the band room. Writing-minded kids could spend their time in the journalism room or the library. Future biology majors would have labs at their disposal. A study hall period would open up the school’s curriculum by offering students the chance to study something otherwise unavailable to them.

    Would this mean one less period a day? No—one less regulated period a day. It would be the student’s responsibility to make the most out of the privilege to go beyond the regular curriculum; if they wasted the chance, by all means—herd them into SAT Prep 101 and lock the door.

    High schoolers may not perfectly know what they want to pursue in life, but everyone at least has an idea. It’s time that more schools offered students an independent study option and let them pursue the fledging interest that might just become their future career.

 

    It’s not our school’s fault, nor even our county’s fault, that subjects like the ones above have been snubbed by mainstream education. Blame instead the emphasis on test scores and standardization that has replaced schedule alternatives with exam-minded classes. (So much for diversity in education.)

    At the very least, you are still in control of the learning that takes place beyond the classroom. Spin around a globe; buy a typing program; spend an hour a day doing something you actually care about. With a little effort outside of school, you might be able to fill the cracks in your schedule that mainstream education has neglected.

 


 

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