The years of high school are undoubtedly some of the most important years a student will face in their education; it is the transition point between being a teenager and achieving adulthood. The high school itself also has the responsibility to assure students are ready for a promising future.
However, there are two serious problems with American high schools.
First, they do not pragmatically prepare teenagers for the real world. Second, there is often too much focus on extracurricular activities. These problems can be solved through the rethinking of what is being taught in school and providing students better guidance on how to spend their high school years.
Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education, writes in her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” that students should be able to read and write and “be numerate. But that is not enough. We want to prepare them for a useful life”.
American high schools do not prepare teenagers for the real world. When teenagers turn 18, a whole different world will be presented to them. Mountains of responsibilities such as taxes and bills will overwhelm them if they are not well prepared. Knowing this, many schools, like mine, still provide little to no preparation for how to pragmatically survive and thrive as a functioning adult.
For instance, it is rare to see classes that focus on filing taxes and investing money for the future, preparing students with financial knowledge and skills that would be extremely helpful to them. Despite a wide array of classes in high school, schools still do not do enough to fully prepare teenagers for the future.
A solution to this issue could be a reevaluation of what is being taught. Educational systems can change their curriculums to accommodate this issue and prepare young adults for a world outside of school. Classes on taxes, financial aid and other such pragmatic content should be mandatory in schools and assimilated into every student’s schedule. These proposed classes don’t necessarily have to be as long as regular classes, but enough to cover the basic needs of a young adult.
Another major flaw of the American high school system is the over-emphasis on extracurricular activities. Many students find the appeal of sports or extracurricular activities to be more interesting than strengthening their basic skills or broadening their knowledge. In American schools, it is common to see athletics being favored over studies.
In a cartoon by Edward Koren which appeared in the “New Yorker,” a basketball game is being held and everyone’s attention and efforts are on the athletics side of the court. Not one is paying attention to the test scores or academics on the other side of the gym. This defocus on education is one of the factors that drop performance rates in the US.
In a report on international academic performance in association with Harvard University, Eric A. Hanushek, a Stanford professor, reports on math performance rates at a global scale. Hanushek found the U.S. as having a mere average of just over 5% of its students in 2009 at advanced levels of math. This is compared to Taiwan’s nearly 30%, and many more countries that have much higher averages.
Clearly, the United States is lagging behind in academic and skills performance.
A solution to this issue could be an approach similar to what Shanghai has been doing. By regulating students to prioritize learning over extracurriculars, the US can climb the advanced academic ladder. The New York Times reported that by following a disciplined approach, 5,100 15-year-olds in Shanghai have outperformed students from 65 other countries in the subjects of math, science and reading competency.
If educational systems in America follow Shanghai’s example of a more structured classroom situation, then they too can bring an emphasis on education and not extracurricular activities, which can improve learning across the board.
These problems of not preparing teenagers for the real world and focusing too much on extracurricular activities hold American schools and students back from their true potential. Solutions to these problems involve a re-evaluation of the educational system and application of mandatory classes as well as more structured and disciplined classrooms for students.
As these problems are fixed, American high schools will become much better and train students for a much better future as well.