High school teaches more than academics

One of the biggest criticisms people have about secondary (high school) education is how it fails to teach “practical skills,” like finance. Without fail, there are complaints about students graduating without knowing how to pay taxes, balance a checkbook or build résumés for jobs. Knowing those skills is vital for our futures as adults; however, the skills learned in the classroom and on campus are just as vital as learning how to pay taxes and build résumés. 

High school is the training ground for the professional world. Students learn how to collaborate in groups in savory and unsavory conditions. Students learn how to network by establishing connections with their teachers and peers. Most importantly, students learn how to work a system. High school is a game students must learn how to play to reap as much academic credit and involvement as possible. Knowing the courses the school offers, the mandatory core classes that have to be taken, the required amount of credits and the elective offerings help students make a successful, optimized four-year course of action. For example, I planned the general courses I wanted to take from freshman year to senior year. I took math, English and science every year along with journalism. Knowing which electives I wanted to do allowed me to take them early in my high school career, so as an upperclassman, they aren’t dragging down my GPA. Now, any electives I take as an upperclassman I can take for no credit, which boosts my GPA. Additionally, because Hart allows us to take classes at College of the Canyons, I complete classes over breaks to make room in my schedule for the next school year. Hart provides tons of resources to help navigate this system, but we as students have to do the research ourselves and be willing to ask questions along the way. Having a network of friends, classroom acquaintances and teachers can make this process easier because they can give advice and act as a resource. Because we research how our school works and make connections along the way, we are teaching ourselves how to navigate jobs and work environments to determine future paths of success. Knowing how to work a system is a practical skill, and high school gives us a place to practice. 

The dress code is a hot topic always under serious debate. Is it sexist? Does it limit personal style and creativity? Et cetera, et cetera. While the ethics of the dress code is for a separate article, it does have a purpose. The dress code isn’t meant to be punishing or stifling but is meant to simulate an environment that’ll require some level of professionalism and formality for multiple hours at a time. Some jobs can have strict dress codes requiring business or casual business attire. Not much can be expressed to show individuality, and the clothing can be quite stiff. Combined with sitting at a desk for almost nine hours a day, the future could be quite uncomfortable. As high schoolers, our dress code allows us to wear much more comfortable clothing, even with restrictions. Students can still wear sweatpants and tank tops as long as they fit and aren’t cropped. Potential problems we face for about seven hours a day should make nine hours a cakewalk. Additionally, what one wears greatly impacts first impressions. We make assumptions about our classmates based on the clothes they wear on the first day of school. Interviewers do the same. An interviewer’s first impression of a potential hiree is the same general impression a client, coworker or business partner will have. What we wear can greatly affect how people perceive our work ethic and professional behaviour. If we don’t fit the mold, there’s a chance we won’t be hired. There are, of course, other factors regarding comfortability and employability, but high school provides a base to prepare us for a more rigid future. 

A thing to remember: public schools have limited control over their curriculum. Individual schools and districts can adjust the curriculum where needed, but the state sets the limits and general rules for student behaviour. If the curriculum is boring or tedious, it’s not the fault of the teachers. Teachers can do their best to make learning more fun and individualized; however, they have to stick to the curriculum. The federal government has standards they believe all students within the public school system should meet. Why? The United States is the most powerful country in the world, according to US News and World Report. As a result, American students have to be held to a certain standard of proficiency in core subjects (math, science, English) in order to be competitive internationally. Boring work and standardized testing is the result of international competitiveness, not teachers being sadists. 

Furthermore, high performing students on the AP/Honors track would be less likely to take “practical” skills classes because it would negatively affect their academic record. Perhaps other forms of education, such as private schools, charter schools and/or homeschooling, are more free to do as they please. However, I don’t want to make assumptions. But, even those forms of schooling still need to follow some sort of approved curriculum, so their students can successfully compete  in higher forms of education. Overall, public schools would have to provide extra classes or sessions outside of a normal schedule if they wish to teach their students about finances or the professional world. Hart, for example, has a finance class and has held webinars for financial literacy. But, the longevity of those classes would depend on student engagement and participation. 

In a typical office job, there will be tedious and boring paperwork, pointless meetings and annoying or incompetent coworkers, like school. The homework most of us begrudgingly do and the heinous group projects prepare us for a professional environment. A pile of assignments and busy work teaches students how to control their levels of performance and output. Students can’t work at 100% for every assignment. To do so would lead to burnout. Instead, students work at different levels depending on the difficulty of the assignment. An easy worksheet may only take 10% whereas an analysis essay may take 90%. Every student has personal limits depending on their skills, and the assignments we receive help us determine what those levels are. In doing so, we train ourselves to take heavy loads without overexertion or burnout. 

There are a ton of other skills that high school teaches students besides academics. Bad teachers teach us how to be independent learners. Students can develop and hone their learning styles if forced to teach themselves more than they should. Moreover, as previously stated, heinous group projects teach students how to be amicable in unsavory situations. Politeness and teamwork are important skills for dealing with unpleasant clients and coworkers. Learning the social cues of good and bad groups will make being productive in the workplace more manageable. On an intellectual level, high school teaches students critical thinking. Critical thinking is necessary for understanding others and forming individualized opinions. Being part of the democratic process is one of the duties of adulthood. Learning how to comprehend and break down social and political issues creates more productive members of society. Much of that ability begins in the classroom. 

I will not deny the frustration that comes with leaving high school without knowing practical skills of paying taxes or changing a tire, but we shouldn’t allow those frustrations to cloud what high school teaches us. The other skills we learn on campus still prepare us for the adult world in ways we might not expect. There are always alternative classes or extra sessions held by the school as well as a plethora of free resources online. The non-academic lessons we learn in the classroom shouldn’t be ignored or overlooked just because they aren’t noticeable or require effort. High school does indeed teach more than academics. We students just have to be willing to find and listen to those lessons.