Thursday, February 10, 2005

38. Offer students these classes

In the movie "Good Will Hunting," Will (Matt Damon) walks into his new therapist's office (Robin Williams), looks at his collection of books and comments, "All these books, but nobody reads the right books." When asked what the "right" books are, Will replies, "I don't know, whatever blows your hair back." I think he means that the right books are those that challenge your mind, beliefs and biases.

I think of that scene whenever I consider high school curriculums. How do students get the best education possible? I do not know but I think all classes should do one of two things, 1) be of practical use in the future or 2) make one think and challenge his or her preconceived notions. The pursuit of intellectualism is the journey of reasoning without emotion and the understanding of relationships and differences.

Not that anybody asked, but here are five classes I would like to see considered by high school curriculums. Perhaps some are currently offered, though probably not required- and certainly none were available when I was in high school.

1) Personal Finance. Each day the class would begin with a pledge not to use credit cards for items of life-style or luxury. In this class, students will learn how to buy a car, a house and save for retirement. They will learn the aspects of compound and simple interest, as well as fixed rates, adjustable rates and points. Illusionary expectations of becoming rich will be studied and realistically applied (at least statistically speaking). The realties and impact of bankruptcy and foreclosures will be examined. Since wealth is a factor of time and money, the sooner individuals learn about personal finance the greater the chance of financial success. Too many kids move out, buy a new car, sign up for a credit card or two and enroll in a few college classes on their minimum wage job.

2) Human Origins. It is time to lay the cards out on the table. Science and each major religion will have the opportunity to present their views on human origins. Not only would this give each student a background in each of the major philosophical viewpoints, but it might also provide an understanding and tolerance of the others. Each discipline will be given both the time to present the history and meaning of its belief or understanding, in addition to the time to debate other viewpoints. It is time to confront this ever-increasing and dividing social issue. Science refuses to teach religion (Intelligent Design, Creationism) in its classes, and churches do not teach evolution in Sunday school.

3) Race, Ethnics, and Minority Issues. The focus of this class is several-fold. Students will study the plight of minorities in this country from African-Americans and Native Americans to women and homosexuals (with this one, I'm sure I've added to the home-schooling craze). They will read books by the likes of Dick Gregory and Fredrick Douglas. Again, issues will be confronted before the narrow-mindedness of prejudice sets in. Students will also study the Constitution and its amendments related to the freedom of speech and religion.

4) Philosophy. The focus of this class will be thought and discussion. Philosophers will include Socrates, Plato, Hume, Thoreau, Marx, and Kant- just to name a few. Conversation will include governments, politics, religion and revolution. In this class, there will be no tests, just a grade of satisfactory /unsatisfactory for participating in discussions and presenting written ideas. There will be more questions than answers.

5) Discovery Class. In this class, each student will prepare two papers/presentations. One subject will be completely of his or her choosing and the other will be of random selection. Students will be encouraged (and selected) to research topics from Aristotle to automobiles. The focus would be the far-reaching effect of each topic. For example, a paper/presentation on automobiles must consider history, technology, business practices, market share, global influence, labor, politics/lobbying, natural resources, etc. Students will experience the effect that their subject has across a spectrum of disciplines.

Honorable Mention: Geography. We study geography in our younger years, but adult testing of world geography is embarrassing. Global economics, travel, and the Internet keeps making the world a smaller and smaller place. Location, culture, language and currency will be studied.

The "no child left behind" act is a highly controversial program. Those I have spoken to, have not endorsed the program, with responses ranging from, "the program is a joke" to "I feel like my hands are tied." Students feel the pressure of having to pass standardized tests and teachers feel as though they have to teach according to those (and only those) standards. Learning and discovery, to some extent, have gone the way of memorizing and test taking skills. Perhaps these classes will spice things up a bit.

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