It is interesting to look at the lists of the most common New Years resolutions. Here is a good summary.
1. Better Nutritious Eating and better exercise. Not surprising when you consider the ridiculous percentage of people that are classified as obese or over weight.
2. Less alcohol consumption.
3. Learning a new skill or new hobby.
4. Quit smoking
5. A better balance between work and other Life activities
6. Become a volunteer.
7. Improve finances. Reduce debt.
It goes on, but those are the ones that I want to focus on. I’m sure many of these are familiar to the readers. These are the regrets, goals and difficulties that seem to be most prominent in most lives.
And yet none of them are a priority in the current school program. Some are given lip service, but mostly they are considered fringe topics. Notice that nowhere on this list is a desire to learn more math, or understand physics better, or to become more acquainted with Bernoulli’s Law. Ironically, “Read More” often appears in the top 10, but the schools are doing their best to smother any love of reading in students by assigning antiquated reading material and forcing constant analysis of what is being read. If these are the priorities that people list as problems or issues in their lives, it is odd that education does not recognize their importance.
Let us start with #1. When I was in grade 7 & 8, attending school in North York in the late 1960s, every student had shop (woodworking and metalworking) classes or home economics (cooking and sewing) classes. Now, at that time the classes were segregated, boys to shop and girls to home ec. However by the time I finished high school and even in my early years as a teacher, they became unsegregated. Until one year they just stopped because it was deemed that there was no longer available funding.
Schools need to do more than the marginalized lessons about nutrition. They should be teaching students how to cook, and not just in a few grades, but in all grades. In a TED talk on the subject, Jamie Oliver shows a video demonstrating that many primary students can’t identify standard vegetables (admittedly in the U.S.). A food curriculum needs to be put into place. I would think that cooking clubs would be a strong extra-curricular activity, and yet I’ve seldom seen it happen. What could be more basic and essential than food and cooking skills? What better way to model and provide basic, usable information about nutrition?
It is true that High School cafeterias often provide poor nutritional selections for students, and it is also true that if they were to initiate a drastic change, students would probably just head out more often to a local pizza or hamburger place. But if they entered High School with a better understanding and more positive exposure to good nutritional choices, this would be less of an issue. Cafeterias would be able to provide better food and have fewer students spurn it. And yet we do not treat this as a priority.
Exercise is another thing that gets odd treatment at schools. Physical Education is not even a compulsory subject in many High School grades. In Elementary Schools I’ve often seen the students most in need of exercise being the ones sitting at the sidelines because they have a note from their parents excusing them, or they’ve “forgotten” their gym clothing and so are ineligible to participate. Schools are trying to address this with DVPA, – Daily Vigorous Physical Activity. Except that it was named DPA because they were forced to remove the word “Vigorous” after a student had a mishap. My experience as a teacher with DPA was that it was very inauthentic, contrived and often just plain inconvenient. As it was not an established block of time on the school schedule, it often interfered with other priorities that were stressed by the school, and didn’t happen. When it did happen, one had to wonder if doing pushups and jumping jacks in the school hall were accomplishing much in the way of building good, positive life skills and habits, or whether it was just cheapening the idea of exercise and activity.
It is odd that hitting the gym for an hour a day, running laps, doing pushups are seen as exercise. They’re all unpleasant for most people. Successful life skills can’t be unpleasant.
Team sports that get a high profile in high schools are often seen as the culmination of athletic prowess. And yet even here, especially here, the idea is a failure. First of all, only a minority fraction of students tend to join such school teams. Most become a cheering section. Even amoung those who were successful high school athletes, as often as not the skills tend to become unused after graduation. The exception are those adults who join local hockey or baseball leagues, but that’s still a minority.
Promotion of physical activity in high schools should be directed towards life skills. In addition to the all-important team sports, what kinds of activities are graduated students, young adults, likely to participate in? Not to mention the challenge of making time for such activities. These need to be consciously taught in schools, and all too often it is not done in a life skills context.
Similarly, #3 (achieving a new skill or hobby) involves creating diversity of interest in one’s life. This tends to be useful if one wants to avoid becoming bored. (Not being bored helps a lot with the smoking, alcohol and drugs thing, as well.) Do schools/ Does education work to promote a variety of interests, -and I don’t mean Calculus and Bio-chemistry? This dovetails into #6 (volunteering), as this too provides opportunities for new and exciting activities. Both of these involve the idea of personal growth. I don’t think education addresses this very much, other than perhaps in a monthly, often lame, Guidance session. (Not always the fault of the Guidance teachers, who are potentially the most important teachers in the school.) Students receive very little instruction in pursuing life interests or setting goals.
Finally, one of the biggest reoccurring news stories is the question of debt and personal finances. Once again, in my experience, what little instruction there is on these issues is done as more of a novelty. A comprehensive education about personal and social finances should be built into all levels of education, not be a special day when a guest speaker comes in to do some out of the ordinary activities.
I look at the list of New Years Resolutions, see a need, and can’t help but notice that they point to particular weaknesses, avoidances and failures in our educational systems.