In today’s educational system, the requirements that are put on students continues to grow, and the variances among school districts and states in what they require is vast. However, when students emerge from high school, they should be prepared to be citizens of this country and the global community. To do that requires some basic skills and background knowledge that everyone should be given access to in school. In today’s society, with the growing emphasis on post-secondary education, the list should be expanded to adequately prepare students for the rigors of a college education. However, at a bare minimum, students should not be allowed to face the world without these basic skills (in no particular order):
1. English – English is the language of daily business and government in this country and if a person struggles to communicate in this language, it will hinder their progress in society. This includes not only being able to read proficiently, but also speak correctly and most importantly, write effectively. Having an appreciation for Shakespeare and poetry is wonderful (and would be helpful for college-bound students), but these other skills are essential.
2. Practical Living – Students should not be allowed to come out of high school without knowing basic life skills such as how to make a budget and balance a checkbook. In theory, parents should be teaching there children the importance of these skills at home, but since that is obviously not happening on a wide scale in today’s world, students need to be exposed to these skills in school. Many students get to college or jobs out of high school and have no idea how to manage money and end up getting in credit card hell. Better exposure to these skills before getting into the real world could help to stave off the flames.
3. Science – at a minimum, students should have a survey science course that hits on the main points of earth/space, physics, and chemistry. This will give them a background in the basics of how things work. Students should also have biology. Studying living organisms is essentially to understanding ourselves and our place in the natural world, and the technological advancements in biology will continually be impacting our lives. Chemistry and Physics would be essential to college bound kids.
4. Math – at a minimum, algebra and geometry. Everyone needs to be able to do basic algebra. It’s essential to finances (how are kids going to make those budgets and balance their checkbooks without algebra)? A basic understanding of perimeter and area is also practical for a wide variety of life projects. Trigonometry and calculus should be required for college bound kids so that can stay on top of their game.
5. Foreign Language – Students should be taking foreign language from early age. The current trend is to push for Spanish, but it really doesn’t matter which language it is. Studying a foreign language gives students a better appreciation for other cultures, which is becoming increasingly important in today’s global economy. Studying another language also tends to improve students’ command of English (see point #1). A minimum of two years in high school should be required. College bound kids should take at least three, if not four.
6. Physical Education and Health – Kids need to have some physical activity in their lives, so that they appreciate the importance of it. A background in basic health is also important. We can’t assume that kids will pick up these behaviors and knowledge on their own if we don’t teach it to them.
7. Arts – Students should have some exposure to the arts, whether that be music, visual arts, art history, or some other form. Cultures cannot grow without a foundation in the arts, and if students are not having this foundation laid at school, they may not get it elsewhere.
8. Occupational – Students should be able to type. In today’s technological society, this is an important skill to have, as is a working knowledge of how to use the internet and basic computer applications. College bound students could take various elective depending on their perceived career path.
So a lot of different fields should be mandatory. But should such a deep a level be required of all students (ie, 3-4 years of math and science)? Not necessarily. As long as students have the basic skills required to be functional citizens in this world, the rest is just icing on the cake, and should not be required.