In 2005 Bill Gates wrote in an editorial for the Los Angeles Times that United States’ high schools are obsolete. “What I mean is that they were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age,” wrote Gates. High schools are in desperate need of innovative redesign to better prepare students for futures in the “real world.” The “real world” is defined by many as living independently. In high school courses, such as chemistry or world history, 46% of students, according to one survey conducted in a Virginia high school, commonly feel they are not becoming fully prepared for independent living or entering a workplace environment. Without the necessary skills to succeed in the real world, not only high schoolers’ futures are put in jeopardy, but the future of the country. If American society does not have functioning and prepared citizens, then it will begin to falter and fall behind in comparison to the rest of the world.
Workplace readiness skills are categorized by employers into academic skills or applied skills. Academic skills are specifically tailored to knowledge that needs to be known for a position, whereas applied skills are learned through experience, such as working in a team. To receive Virginia state funding and accreditation, schools must teach mandated SOL curriculum, but through this curriculum students should not lose the valuable lessons that are needed to succeed in the future. Employers in a 2009 study conducted through the Cooper Center at the University of Virginia were asked to identify academic or practical skills that they see as essential. Out of the top five skills, only one, reading and writing, can be categorized as a core skill. 96% of employers rated positive work ethic and speaking and listening as the most essential skill for prospective employees. Professional ethics was rated essential by 95% of employers and 89% of employers deemed team membership as essential. The data was not collected from only one specific area, so it applies to all students, no matter if they continue into higher education or go directly into the workforce. Teachers need to weave these skills into their daily lessons.
Mr. Lewis, who teaches World History and Government, feels that more emphasis needs to be placed on the connection of skills. He wants more students to be able to see skills, such as communication and problem solving, they learn in projects and then apply them to real world situations. Mrs. Hillyer, who teaches English, said that she hopes her students see how English draws connections to what it means to be human. Through several heritage projects and themes from Antigone, she feels that students have been able to dive deeply into the nature of humans. Mrs. Kaminski, who teaches Honors World History I and AP Government, said that her curriculum relates to the outside world. She described the influence of Greek and Roman architecture, which can be seen in Winchester, and how understanding government directly applies to life as an American. Mrs. Kaminski also said how she structures her class teaches responsibility. “Not doing your homework and being unprepared for class,” said Mrs. Kaminski, “is the same thing as not being prepared for your job, no matter what field you go into.”
“Teachers should explain what students should take away from a class,” said Nicole Hauck, a junior, “so that students are able to develop their interests to find what they want to do.” Nicole went on to explain the importance of teachers telling students why their class is important so students learn to take what they need from a class. Students Collin Boyer and Laurel Biedrzycki described how they wanted the material presented differently. “Honestly I can’t help it when they (teachers) have notes up on the board and we have to copy them down,” Collin laughed, “I fall asleep.” Laurel said that she wants the presentations to be more visually engaging. Both Collin and Laurel agreed that if the presentations would be more interactive and less monotonous, lessons would be perceived better.
On a regular basis, in my classes, my teachers connect the lesson being taught or the activity being done to the real world. Through my World History class not only have I learned why some conflicts are still prevalent in the world today, but I have learned how to prepare and build an argument. In AP World History we are asked to write an essay based off seven to nine documents, also known as a ‘DBQ essay’. To successfully complete the essay, each of the documents must be used to prove an argument that the writer creates. Learning how to write a DBQ essay has taught me how to formulate an argument so that when I present my ideas and thoughts to people, I am coherent and my opinions are supported by evidence.
Bringing attention to how students feel an absence of practical skills being taught in the classroom is keen to improving lessons. Through gaining student contribution to how real world lessons can be better seen is invaluable to the education system.
Think about your own classroom experiences. How can Millbrook improve connections to the real world? How can teachers make the connections between lessons and the real world clearer? What could be done to improve the connections to the real world while teaching curriculum? What classes or lessons are going to help you be successful when you leave Millbrook and why?