Over the last decade the world has seen many changes: the invention of facial recognition technology, narrowing the gender gap, lowering unemployment rates. However, one topic that remains trapped in a past decade is the high school curriculum. The high school curriculum is the guidelines a class is required to follow. At Shawnee Heights this is decided by both the Kansas State Department of Education and the school board. However, despite its relevance today, the curriculum has begun to lag behind.
The high school curriculum decides what young adults will learn, the skills they will develop, and the knowledge they will gain before becoming adults. However, according to the Kansas Department of Education, the standards required for a curriculum are only updated every seven years. This ensures that schools quickly fall behind in terms of technology, current events, and literature that is constantly being released.
High school curriculums particularly fall behind in English classes. The literature read in these classes is rarely updated, as generations have read classics such as “Romeo and Juliet” or “The Odyssey”; and while there is some value to reading this literature, such as gaining a broader understanding of the English language, these classics fail to address issues that students now face. Classes read this almost exclusively, and therefore do not get the chance to read stories which are currently coming out, and therefore include main characters students can relate to, who can help them better gain perspective about topics they face which were almost non-existent when the “classics” were written, such as cyberbullying with the rise of social media. In addition, the literature read in English classes lacks an expansion beyond a United States perspective, with only three percent of all books published in the United States every year being translated from another language according to a study found in the Pacific Standard article: You’re Missing Out on Great Literature. In this article, the author discusses how few of our novels are from places other than the United States. In this way, students lose the opportunity to learn about life outside the US, and therefore the opportunity to broaden their own perspectives.
Moreover, an area in which the high school curriculum is lacking is in current events, specifically in Social Studies classes. While these focus on history, they often lack discussions about what is occurring in the world as they speak. Education about the current political, social, and economic climate is essential for students as they learn to become adults. Current events will affect students as they prepare to become adults, whether this is in seeking further education, applying for later jobs, or in everyday life. Learning about events happening around them becomes essential for a student to know before they can leave high school and be required to contribute to forms such as voting. As found in an article done by NPR titled: Teens Want More Education On The Electoral Process, reporters visited several classrooms and asked students whether they felt prepared to vote, and found that the majority could not answer this question confidently. Although many teachers include current events as a part of their own teaching, few high schools require that students take a class in which all time is spent learning about global issues.
Although the outdated curriculum seems daunting, there are many solutions that would encourage its updating. The first would be requiring a Modern American Conflicts class for students, which is currently available at Shawnee Heights, but is not required. In order to update English literature, this would include requiring at least one book be read by students that was written in the past decade, allowing them to gain a better perspective on problems they will face in today’s climate. These newer young adult books could also be paired with a classic they drew inspiration from if this is the case, and in this way students would be able to learn about the same topic from both an older and newer perspective.
In addition to a much-needed update to the school’s curriculum, this issue of outdated content concerns the lack of education to teach students basic life skills directly relevant to life outside of high school. Whether these skills are learning how to sew, write checks, or mail letters, schools have lost this focus to the outdated curriculum meant to appeal to colleges.
Exposure to these skills used to be passed from parents to children – as well as in classes like home ec. and shop classes – but with students taking more and more time to focus on academic achievement, extracurriculars, and activities, time to learn these skills are being pushed out of the way.
At Shawnee Heights, what exposure to life skills is found in Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) – classes meant to update topics from home ec. classes. Nonetheless, these classes are just electives, and only teach a limited amount of skills. Additionally, FCS classes are enrolling less and less students each year – there were only 3.5 million students enrolled in FCS secondary programs in 2012, a thirty-eight percent decrease in over a decade.
“FCS classes also commonly address personal finance, healthy relationships, how to balance work and home responsibility, and child development,” writes Tove Danovich in his article, Despite A Revamped Focus On Real-Life Skills, ‘Home Ec’ Classes Fade Away. He quotes Megan Vincent, a FCS education specialist for the state of Montant, “In the good old days you got that at home. But now you have two working parents … these courses fill the gaps for what parents can no longer do.”
Despite the dwindling numbers for FCS, the class promises what many classes at high schools cannot – that what students learn in these classes are relevant and will be used throughout their lives. But with more and more time being spent on academic achievement, the less time students get to learn how to file their taxes or how to fill out a resume.
That’s where the solution to many schools and programs across the country comes in: adulting classes. These ‘Adulting Classes’ teach a variety of life skills, from personal finance and cooking, to learning how to change a tire and manage stress.
Rachel Flehinger, principal of an Adulting School in Portland, Maine, says that, “With kids being busier and having activities, sports and extracurriculars, there’s not as much time sitting around the dinner table and passing down all of that information,” Flehinger says. “And then there’s no more home ec and shop in schools; before, even when [the skills] weren’t being passed down at least school was picking up that slack, and now it’s not” (Donvito, Yes, ‘Adulting Classes’ for Millennials Are on the Rise—Here’s What You Need to Know About Them) Here, programs and classes like these ‘Adulting Classes’ provide the information that is lost amongst the students of today.
A library in Sepulpa, Oklahoma, features topics on adulting, such as resume building, financial literacy, sewing, cleaning, self-esteem, car maintenance, and nutrition every month, while a youth organization in Illinois offers program for teens on resume-building, money management, meal prep, sewing and time management (Donvito).
At Shawnee Heights, we can update our curriculum to require these classes and assure students receive the basic skills that all need to succeed in life, along with updating our current classes to involve a modern-day focus. Acknowledging that action like this would take time to implement, Shawnee Heights can still be apart of the many schools around the country and offer more elective classes that specialize in the life skills that students will actually find important in life, as well as update our curriculum and adjust to educating in a modern world.