We need to leave high school with real life skills


Graphic: Ellen Gantenbein

Ellen Gantenbein, Staff Writer

High school teaches us many things, from annotation skills to calculus, but there is one particular subject area in which many students graduate with inadequate mastery: practical life skills.
Although high school core classes teach students useful information, most of that information isn’t very applicable in everyday life. When we graduate, we’re expected to able to go off on our own. In order to accomplish this, schools must prepare students in all areas, including classes that give students the skills they will need to live independently.
So the question is – are South students ready for real life? I conducted survey to see how many practical skills South students say they could perform right now. There were 36 things on the list ranging from cleaning a toilet to getting insurance. On average students checked off 21 out of the 36, or 58%. This reveals that, as much as we can be praised for our academic excellence, South students would be pretty helpless in the real world.
The good news is that with South being in an urban setting and most students finding their own way to school, 96% of students know how to use public transit. However, we’re behind in other areas. Only 36% of students know how to jump start a car and only 20% know how to take out loans and understand how they work.
I would probably include myself among the ranks of students who would face conundrums attempting to live solo. Every time my car makes a weird noise I panic and immediately call my dad for assistance. Even after countless incidents, I have yet to pick up any sort of competence in all things mechanical. What’s even more amusing is watching my college-aged brother struggle with a lot of the same things. He had to sign his first lease recently, and I sat and watched him make several phone calls while he tried to figure out what the document meant.
“[Life skills classes] should be a requirement so you’re not kicking kids out of high school not knowing how to take care of themselves as an adult.” said junior Lydia Chapman. Clearly, my brother left high school a bit unprepared and so will most subsequent generations. Life skills classes could cover a lot of different areas that students will need to be proficient in in order to have an easier time on their own. Students will be forced to pick up the skills eventually, but only after they have tried, failed, and probably caused a few minor disasters in the process.
For a lot of students, cooking is one of these skills they never have to think about. Either they get school lunch, buy food, or someone else cooks their meals. When you’re on your own, cooking is important. From the information that most students get out of school or from their parents, students still might not know the difference between a spatula and tongs, much less how to fry an egg or what to eat to avoid getting scurvy.
Even more basic, when you’re living on your own, chances are you’re going to own a place of residence and maybe a car. In order to live comfortably and maintain these investments one must know how to take care of them. This means knowing skills from how to clean a toilet to how to check the air pressure in your car tire, or even how to fix a leaky sink. Again, if you have to call the plumber every time your faucet is dripping, your budget isn’t going to stretch very far.
Oh that reminds me, do you even know how to set up a budget? Probably not, if you don’t have any financial literacy skills. Most high school students don’t know how to deal with money, from using a credit card responsibly to getting insurance to taking out loans and understanding how they work, these things are a mystery to most of us. It’s assumed that we will just figure them out as we go. If we’re not expected to figure out how to read on our own, why should we be expected to make huge financial decisions without any prior information?
Maybe it’s assumed that students will learn these things from their parents but that isn’t always a reasonable expectation. Junior Lydia Chapman noted “if your parents aren’t very good at certain things they’re not going to teach you how to do it very well either.” Or maybe it’s assumed students will just pick up these skills along the way.
Special education teacher Jim Barnhill added, “You’re having to learn by the mistakes you make in life and you’re not actually being taught these things.”
All of these basic “life skills” are the things every person needs to know in order to successfully live on their own. These aren’t things that should be pushed to the side and left for students to find out at the last moment. This information is applicable to every single student no matter what path they decide to take after high school. Sophomore Jenesis Fonder commented “In the real world you’re probably not gonna be reading from a textbook and annotating papers… You’re gonna have to know how to apply your knowledge.”
In other parts of the state and country schools have a class called “Family and Consumer Sciences” which covers many of these skills as an updated home economics class. Home economics classes used to be a required part of curriculum usually geared towards girls to prepare them to be homemakers. While it’s definitely a good thing we have moved away from this ideal, the class should have been modified to fit our changing culture not eliminated entirely.
South has a small life skills program currently, but the classes are only available for students in the special education program. Classes of this sort should be more widely available to all students, and there’s no doubt that students would be interested. Senior Callaway Holt noted “I think [life skills classes] could definitely be more important than some of the classes I’m taking now, more valuable.”
Some math teachers at South have attempted to include some financial skills into their curriculum, including teacher Jennifer Hill. She’s seen a value to the lessons adding “I think it’s really helpful for kids to see this stuff before they get to it. It’s stressful having to learn all of it on your own.” If the goal of high school is to prepare students for their future, classes should prepare students for all aspects of that future, not just college.