Great Debate: What class do you think every student should be required to take?


Common sense. It’s rather ironic how something that is supposed to be so simple can, in reality, be so complicated. After all, common sense is supposed to be, well, common, widely accepted and known without even being said. But the reality is that common sense is not as common as one might think. If anything it is really a subject that needs to be taught, perhaps more so than any other class.

Open up a site like YouTube and you will see what I mean. While it is true that there are many intelligent and mature people who use YouTube in sensible ways, it is equally true that many people use YouTube to post about their most recent irrational actions. Whether it is a dangerous stunt, a video on how to waste money or a new life-threatening challenge, it can all be found on social media.

Dangerous challenges are especially common forms of a lack of common sense. Take the cinnamon challenge, the Tide-pod challenge, the pass-out challenge and the devious licks challenge for instance. In the cinnamon challenge, participants are supposed to try to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon without the use of water. The danger of this challenge though is that it often leads to the participant inhaling the fine, dusty powder and has even put several participants in the hospital. The Tide-pod challenge, on the other hand, dared contestants to eat Tide-pods and then post about it on social media, the pass-out challenge involved intentionally cutting off your oxygen supply and the devious licks challenge encouraged participants to vandalize bathrooms. Before you ask, these are all real challenges that people have tried; I am not making this up. Social media has continued to crank out one dangerous, irrational challenge after another with viewers willingly and joyfully following each one with no regard for common sense.

Yet, common sense really is one of the most important life skills a person can have as it plays a role in making smart decisions in every aspect of a person’s life. School, sports, arts, finance, career decisions, etc, common sense is involved. 

Therefore, I have to ask, if common sense is so important and it is evident that many people in society do not exercise their lives, then why is common sense not a required school class? I know it sounds silly, but the evidence is clear. Common sense is not so “common” after all.


“You’re not Asian, you’re Indian!” said a boy in my seventh grade World History class. At the time, I thought it was laughable. Who was he to tell me what I was? How did he not know the difference between race and ethnicity? I remember responding, telling him I was Filipino (which is in Southeast Asia), and even if I was Indian, I would still be Asian. Now, as a high school junior, I find it concerning. We were in a world history class, so how wasn’t he aware of the fact that India is in Asia? What’s even more concerning, though, is the fact that Americans are infamous for their geographic incompetence.

The easiest way to combat widespread geo-iliteracy is to require geography courses in high schools. In the 2020’s, however, it seems as though studying geography is only a hobby.

A survey conducted by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and National Geographic in May 2016 revealed that American college students, ages 18 to 26, are truly geo-illiterate. The survey was presented to 1,203 young adults and included questions about economics, the environment, US foreign policy, current international events and demographics, and aimed to answer the question How much do educated young Americans know about the rest of the world? According to the results, not much. The average score was 55%, and only 29% of all those surveyed passed with a 66% or better. The low scores in the educated sample are an obvious cause for concern and raise more questions: How much do all Americans know about the rest of the world? How does this affect the voting population?

It’s a pretty well known fact that bigotry begins with the uneducated. In 2016, a poll by Vianovo showed what Americans thought about other countries. The results were somewhat predictable: Americans favored European countries and exhibited disdain for South American, Central American and Middle Eastern countries. For example, only 22% of those surveyed had a positive opinion of Mexico and a staggering 9% found El Salvador to be favorable. So what explains America’s bad-neighbor attitude? In short, misinformation.

But the problem of misinformation runs much deeper than individual opinions. It shapes how modern societies progress and interact with each other. Imagine being a teenager in Africa. Where would you live? What would you do? How different was their life from your own? Believe it or not, Africa has cities and suburbs, much like us. Why is it that the rest of the world knows virtually everything about America, but we know next to nothing about them? We share this planet with 194 other countries; isn’t it time to put an end to our overwhelming American egocentrism and understand each other?

Sure, you can go your whole life without knowing where Uzbekistan is, but learning geography is so much more than memorizing locations and knowing how to read maps. With such a great push for history in schools, we’re often too busy studying the past to consider current events. While it is important to learn history (so we aren’t doomed to repeat it, I know, I know), I’d argue that geography is of equal significance and even goes hand in hand with learning history. 

When we study geography, we’re not just studying maps. It’s a study of people, cultures, terrains, economics, government systems and how they all interact. If we don’t know where places are– or if they even exist in the first place– how can we be expected to understand their governments or cultures? Without this knowledge, how can our voting population be expected to make truly informed decisions?

“The real safeguard of democracy is education,” said President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Studying geography and requiring it in schools would come with a plethora of positives. Generations to come would become more culturally aware individuals and have a greater understanding of the world around them. People would have more context when confronted with geopolitical issues and the understanding of other cultures would create a decrease in candid bigotry and increase in nuanced approaches.

Too often, we resort to simplifying situations. Our brains long to dichotomize issues, but studying other societies through geography would provide us with a greater understanding of who, exactly, we share this planet with. With precarious foreign affairs, how can we, as a nation, be expected to exemplify competence when even our educated young population can’t comprehend how other countries function, let alone where they are? Already unsteady foreign relations will only continue to unravel if we do not make educated decisions.