Thursday, June 10, 2010

Practical Skills

Today I read THIS blog post by one of my favorite Sustainability bloggers Wendy (who occasionally comments on this blog).

I have much to say on the subject and was just going to respond in her comments but decided to instead write this here.

I hated high school. HATED it. Passion of a thousand firey sun hated it. I hated chemistry, hated geometry, hated second semester of Algebra. Loved other subjects but was bored in most of them. But I couldn't drop out because I was white, middle class and expected to go to college. Which I did eventually do and I have a Bachelors to prove it.

I got pregnant my sophomore year. I was so OVER high school and had high ideals of what life would be like for me if I could just start LIVING already.

About 2 months into my pregnancy I happily chose to move over to our local "pregnant girl school" which was called Crossroads.

I had been taking Advanced English, Advanced History, Chemistry, Geometry, Personal Finance, gym, & had just started home economics but I don't actually remember doing anything in the class.

When I moved I began taking Children's Classics, Social Studies, Computers, Maternal Health, Personal Finance and other stuff I can't remember. (Cut me some slack, that was 15 years ago)

The glaring difference in the teaching styles between the two schools was, in one, it as all very abstract and I couldn't see how any of it mattered or applied at the "regular" high school. At Crossroads all of the subject matter (except I suppose for computers at the time) was practical, hands on, must have skills knowledge and it had to be tailored to fit 100 girls whose ages ranged from 12-19, who were in different grade levels, learning levels and had only pregnancy as the common thread. Oh and there were only 2 and a HALF teachers.

I learned all about my pregnancy, the baby, birth, labor and exercise and health through my maternal health class. I was better prepared than some adult women I've known in my lifetime.

Personal finance is the class that I always brag about though. In high school is was gear towards a macro economic learning model. At Crossroads I learned how money applied practically in my world.

Our Public School system forced the girls at Crossroads to clock in and out each day. Our instructors used this to a)prove we were there and b) pay us in pretend money.

It worked like this:
At the start of the school year we had to find a job that we would be qualified for, assuming we had graduated high school, and present it to our lead instructor. She would then interview us like a real job interview. We would get the job (or not and have to start over) and would receive a rate of pay. At the end of the week we received "paychecks" based on the number of hours we had been at school previously. The rate of pay was either stating in the job listing or she took an average of what the job paid.

We had to find an apartment and present it to her and fill out a rental application and fake rental agreement.

We opened fake bank accounts and had fake checks printed for us. We had checklists of bills we needed to pay and had to pay them each week. We had to reconcile our checkbooks. We had to pay bills we received from the lead teacher for electricity, gas and water (if it wasn't' included in our rental agreement). We had to pay for at least a bus token to show how we would get to and from work and had to figure out the bus schedules.

We had to make a menu for the month and it was based on flyer's from the grocery stores. We had to present them and if they did not meet the food pyramid they were reject or received a less than passing score.

That course taught me how to file my taxes when we had a real tax preparer come in and discuss it with us.

We consistently had guest speakers come in to give tips on how to interview for jobs, how to open a bank account, how to apply for public assistance (if needed), explain what the process was for food stamps or WIC, discuss nutrition and how to cook. (I didn't learn that, sadly, until much later). We had people from Job Corp come talk to us about their program, we had parenting coaches, we had real world situations to deal with.

My final semester in the school (last semester of my junior year) I WAS the bank for the personal finance program. I entered the checks the other students had written in their "bank accounts". I printed pay checks and distributed them based on the calculations from their time cards. I loved it.

That school was not college prep in any sense of the word. The teacher was very frank with me and told me their GOAL was to send out girls who were prepared to take care of their children. If they graduated from HIGH SCHOOL it was a resounding success. Of the girls that graduated from the school the same year I did (5), only 2 of us went to college. Another went back several years later. Only one has her bachelors, one has her associates. The other dropped out after her first semester. I've been told by that same teacher that 40% attendance to college is amazing and most years they don't have any that go.

It's not quite the same as the real world skills that Wendy talks about, growing food, fixing your own home or equipment.

But it's a glimpse into how schooling COULD be. It could be practical and skill focused. It could prepare those that leave it to become productive citizens instantly or at least sooner than those who don't.,

Don't mistake me, I don't have a problem with someone going to college and majoring in ANYTHING and getting a degree and I expect it of my children if that's their calling.

But if you can't balance a checkbook no amount of money is going to really be a support to you and you're never going to have a real appreciation for it. I suspect the same will be said about food soon but in a more dramatic fashion. If you can't grow your own food you wont have enough time to appreciate the skill it takes to grow it.


Wendy said...

Sounds like you had a great high school experience. I wish more kids were given the kind of education you were given, and my guess is that even for those classmates who didn't go to college, finding a job, keeping a job, and managing money weren't as much of a problem as those things are for most high school graduates.

Thanks for the shout-out :).

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