As the professor for a freshman composition class, I recently decided that I could get more students involved in class discussion by introducing the following prompt: “Should all high school graduates pursue post-graduation education?” I had essays by Sawhill, Owen, Murray, and Addison on the subject and had thought I’d steer my students in the direction of responding to the opinions of these essayists.
My student, however, had other ideas. I sat and listened as they discussed the ways in which their high schools had failed them in teaching some of what they really needed to know to navigate adulthood, “street smarts” as one student expressed it. And they were firm in their belief that all students regardless of their academic trajectories needed to be in such a course. Further, the course should be taught by persons with current subject matter expertise and the ability to connect with teens.
Some had just filed income taxes, so competence in that task was on their minds. This was followed by a host of issues which I’d like to share with you:
• Drug issues. All in the class had participated in a D.A.R.E. program, and not a single student indicated that the experience was positive in terms of honest presentation of materials delivered in an appropriate way.
• Birth control and sexually-transmitted diseases. They wanted to know the options for birth control as well as the pluses and minuses of each as well as prevention methods for STDs.
• Parenting. One student learned this by providing child care; another learned it by becoming a father. They wanted to learn these skills before becoming parents.
• Renting. How to locate a suitable housing situation at 18 if they find themselves no longer welcome where they have been living.
• Car loans. One student shared that he paid 18 percent interest on such a loan and within several months had a major repair with the pre-owned vehicle.
• Employment issues. This included resumes, interviewing skills, negotiating wages, career shadowing, switching jobs, networking, job security.
• Common courtesies. Public arenas such as restaurants were of particular concern.
• Legal issues. An overview of their basic legal rights were on their list.
• Cigarettes and alcohol. Ads about the dangers are inadequate: they want to know much more from scientific and psychological perspectives.
I think I’ve indicated some of their basic issues, but they also expressed that too much “hand holding” in high school had not provide them for college success, that high school was often an exercise in “learning to obey rules.”
They realize, as do you, the complexities and politics involved in such a course of study, as well as their individual responsibility for educating themselves, but that they want to know more is a good sign. Did your high school education prepare you with “street smarts” to help you navigate life?
In conclusion, research on the human brain indicates that the rational part of teens’ brains has not fully developed, the prefrontal cortex, and won’t until they are in their the mid- to late-20s, resulting in actions that might be harmful or dangerous. Teens need to know this as well. Underscoring this might help them put on the brakes before they engage in risky behaviors.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.