Black and white photo of a graduate's back, looking toward an arena's crowd

What a kid should graduate high school knowing

Caught in a debate about whether or not software programming should be taught in schools, I wanted to start from a first principle. What do I think every American should graduate high school knowing?

Pulled out from pedagogy or educational theory, this became an exercise simply to explore what I felt was important.

This is an incomplete list that is not meant to be a submitted policy paper. Rather this is a thought experiment. I do believe reading, writing and arithmetic remain as foundational as ever. Broadly, I believe the real point of school is to teach how to learn, how to be a citizen and, yes, how to be a productive member of an economy today. I’m less sure about new topics.

Here are some concepts I’d argue every American should graduate high school knowing:

  • How to vote — Picking a candidate, having safe and friendly conversations and how to literally vote.
  • How to research — Use papers and schoolwork to do it but rather than the facts I care more about how to find credible information. This is media literacy and fact-based arguments.
  • How to learn — The idea of lifetime learning is crucial.
  • How to be online — Where typing class was once a method for supporting communication, students should be introduced to the consequences and strengths of an online presence. School email accounts seem rather sensible to me. Similarly discourse online does too.
  • How to choose a job — Not necessarily to choose the job, but to know how to do it. Career days are wonderful things.
  • How to file taxes — It’s good for math, history and civics.
  • How to save money — Every kid should graduate with a bank account. You need to be introduced to compound interest and retirement plans.
  • How to be an employee — I do think following rules and coming on time and being socialized are important things. Thinking outside the box is great, but I  believe you need to know what inside the box is first. Creativity is also a part of this.
  • How to have safe sex — This would include a discussion of consent. It could be a concept of how to love and be loved.

Critically, these aren’t new classes, necessarily. They all can be used to teach existing curricula. What would be on your list?

The photo of a graduate is by Cole Keister @coleito via Unsplash.

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