What do young people need to know, what skills do they need to have, in order to be a thriving member of society?
It’s an important question for those interested in education. If they can read, write, and do basic mathematical computations, is that enough? These are part of the requirements that state lawmakers have put in place for kids to earn a diploma, and I think they’re insufficient.
I’m thinking of this because I met today with my colleagues at the progressive school where I work, and we revisited our graduation requirements. Every senior needs to write a credo, which is a statement of belief about what matters to you. Every senior needs to complete a senior project, which is an ambitious undertaking that advances a personal passion and demonstrates the ability to set a goal and achieve it over time. Finally, seniors must meet certain standards of community involvement and uphold the school’s core commitments: engage the community, practice integrity, act with courage.
I can imagine a young person with basic literacy and math skills that still may lack the ability to thrive in society. But an 18-year-old who can articulately express who she is, set a goal related to something she loves and then accomplish that goal over time, and emerge from a loving community with a clear understanding of what it means to have integrity and courage—that sounds like someone I’d like to hire.
Education critics are forever advocating “raising the bar,” but it’s always about things that don’t really matter. Sure, force kids to take another English class. Throw in another math class while you’re at it. Without a sense of self, without the ability to relate to and communicate with others, it doesn’t add up to much.
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