Alex Wecht ’24
The world is changing. We must do so as well. It seems apparent that American high school curricula are failing to adapt to the challenges we face today.
“But,” you may protest, “standardized test scores are rising, and now my eight-year-old is more advanced in math than me!” But what good is a society of one-track thinkers? What happens when we lack practical, interdisciplinary education? Where will real growth and understanding come from when high school students are forced to pour over math problems but aren’t given exposure to civics, humanities, and social sciences? Young people need a learning platform adequate to allow meaningful inquiry into our worldly reality. I would argue, for example, that an American teen should understand how that plastic bottle that they just littered will impact our environment before he or she is required to analyze yet another quadratic equation.
As America struggles to bring our younger generation’s academic progress up to the speed of other countries, many have urged educators to double down on quantitative training. The Common Core Education Curriculum, as proposed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, provides:
“The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.”
I agree that students should have high-quality literacy skills, but why the emphasis on mathematics? We need to be teaching high school students to be well-rounded, practical thinkers. Math is most definitely not the way to accomplish that. The Common Core standards put an extraordinary amount of pressure on educators to prioritize math requirements. This curriculum fosters the wrong mentality in students from an early age. It teaches students that they’re in school to pass tests rather than to learn. It teaches them that school is to prepare you for standardized tests, not to help you get ready to tackle the world and all its facets.
Many will argue that math is the ideal method for learning critical problem-solving and analysis. These math advocates say that, without a rigorous mathematics education, students won’t be able to deal effectively with the curve balls life will throw down the road. I maintain that a rigorous mathematical education is critical at the elementary and middle school level. However, once students enter high school, the requirements should integrate more practical substance.
As teenagers begin to find themselves and cement their beliefs and personalities, they must step outside of the Common Core mindset and into the real world. Unfortunately, high schoolers are burdened with overwhelming quantitative requirements, on top of the enormous pressures associated with the SAT and ACT. By the way, the general trend in SAT performance has been a decrease in reading scores while math scores have risen. So, while we might be getting better at math per se, we are getting worse at practical learning and analytical thinking. Isn’t math supposed to improve our reasoning skills?
By the time students have reached the high school level, they will have already had plenty of time to develop their mathematical skills through demanding curricular requirements. It is time to present high school students with courses that encourage and generate meaningful consideration, passion, and drive.
The vast majority of students will never use the equations and formulas they’re learning. Doing things you don’t want to do makes you feel uncomfortable, but they are indispensable; however, mental broadening can be sought and earned in much more meaningful ways.
Students are far more likely to fully engage in their studies when they can see the material’s practical implications. If our nation’s high schools would add civics, social sciences, and humanities courses to the “general education” curriculum, students would not only show more interest in school, but they would also be learning more of what would equip them for college and life beyond.
Courses like environmental studies, philosophy, current events, world history, ancient cultures, American civics and government, and anthropology would help students become all-embracing thinkers. Environmental studies should be mandatory, with a special focus in light of climate change and the threats it poses. All of us need to understand how our daily actions affect the Earth and the future of humanity.
With philosophy as a requirement, high school students would enhance their logical and analytical reasoning, close reading skills, and moral compasses. They would also develop an ethical and moral sensibility that they would carry throughout their lives.
The importance of courses in civics and American government is evident. How many of the rioters who stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th had read our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, or the Federalist Papers? It’s good to probe these documents and themes in college closely, but every American should have a grounding in them from their high school studies.
The interdisciplinary aspects of these studies will allow students to make significant connections–allowing them to find their place in the world. With this cohort of broadminded and well-educated newcomers, our colleges and universities will be better facilities for advanced study in interdisciplinary subjects.