The American educational system seems to be falling rapidly behind other countries, and sometimes, it’s not the children’s fault. Many high schools fail to graduate students who have been taught properly, and who are prepared to go out into the real world. Some high school courses seem to be “fluff” and indicate no appropriate relationship to the students’ academic careers. Why is this the case? Which high school courses should be mandatory so that a high percentage of American high school students is competitive on an international scale? The answer involves two things: picking valuable courses, and teaching those courses correctly.
Mathematics, on the one hand, is a valuable subject in any school, whether it is elementary, junior high, or high school. However, many students ask their teachers, “What’s the point of learning geometry? What’s the point of learning calculus?” And many teachers, unfortunately, can’t give honest, straightforward answers. That’s because mathematics past algebra (I and II) are pretty much useless for students who are not going into any mathematical or scientific career. Colleges are benefited by this too; they force students to learn some part of calculus, even if they have learned it already or do not need it for their careers. The point it, students should learn math, but they should be able to connect it with daily life. If they don’t, they’ll forget it. If algebra (I and II) was taught along with personal accounting or business math, then it would make sense, because people have to do these things at some point in their lives. Rotating a function on the x-axis to produce a solid revolution, and then trying to find the volume of that solid, seems a preposterous subject for every single student.
English (and other languages) are absolutely necessary in every high school’s curriculum. America is multi-cultural, and it’s rapidly becoming globalized. With its connections with different countries all around the world, America needs its citizens to learn English properly and at least one other language. All careers need people who have valuable English skills. It is also quite unfortunate that foreign languages are quickly dying off in the educational system. German and French are being ousted, and Latin is learned by only a minority. Languages are such great brain food that it is impossible to see a high school curriculum complete without them.
Physical education seems strange included in this list, but it shouldn’t be. With the rapidly increasing statistics of obesity, America should focus her attention on pushing for good physical education courses in every school. Well-being extends to both the body and the mind, and if both aren’t used everyday, one of them will deteriorate.
Social science courses are also important for a complete high school curriculum. When taught properly, history and its components become as valuable as mathematics or English. Not only can people learn from history and try not to make the same mistakes twice, history encompasses many subjects and develops skills such as analytical, comprehension, and organizational.
While the list can go on and on, one thing to remember is to change the way these courses are taught. The current method is to have each state spit out the national or state standards (which are obscure and absurd anyway), and then have each pupil memorize and spit out the information on annual standardized tests. This is not a good way to learn. Socrates proposed a way of learning, called Socratic seminar, which is probably the best way for students to take in information, yet contribute to one another’s knowledge. The Socratic seminar involves students’ activity and participation; they are the ones who pose the questions and try to answer them. In this way, the teacher is only a guide.
While math, English, languages, physical education, and history are the standard candidates for mandatory courses in high schools, it should be safe to say that how they are taught affects their importance and impression upon the students as well.