With a history degree from an Ivy League university and college-level classical music training, you’d think I would favor an all-academics-all-the-time approach to education. And I do, at the high-school level.
But I think Riverside School District 96 can spare our children 10 weeks a year during sixth and seventh grades to learn basic life skills. The district should reinstate family/consumer science and industrial arts at Hauser Junior High in September 2007 without fail.
To be fair, both Superintendent Jon Lamberson and school board members have stated their intentions to resurrect these programs following this year’s hiatus due to staffing glitches. But the fact that the old courses are being replaced with communications- and technology-related curricula immediately following the district’s addition of an expensive technology director speaks volumes about their priorities, stated or not.
To some extent, an emphasis on technology in schools is appropriate and our district is fortunate to have the resources it does. But I worry less about today’s middle-class young people keeping up with technology trends-iPods, anyone?-than about their ability to balance a checkbook or avoid credit-card debt in a few years.
After all, they’re the digital natives, immersed in their mother tongue of gigabytes, hi-def and wi-fi. We adults are the digital immigrants who, try as we might, will always struggle to understand the nuances of the digital world.
A class about “boring” issues like understanding nutrition and food preparation, making minor sewing repairs and, yes, balancing that dreaded checkbook may seem charmingly archaic. Doesn’t everyone know and do these things? Well, no. Or if they know them, many parents don’t have the time or energy to teach basic life skills.
If you doubt that, look at a fast-food drive-thru window during the evening rush. Or consider the implications of Americans’ credit-card debt soaring to record highs just as our savings rate has dipped to an all-time low.
I would argue that we need more consumer education, not less. And we need it as an integral part of the junior-high school day, not an after-school activity. Our young teens already have a long list of ways to spend their precious after-school time, including sports, theater, music lessons, homework and hanging out with friends, all important activities in their own right.
Are they really going to carve out time to learn how many teaspoons comprise one tablespoon? Even those who want to join in may find themselves fighting against the dreaded “uncool factor” unless the cooking club turns out to have unexpected cachet. But offer a multimedia club and low enrollment wouldn’t be a problem.
I’m reminded of the district’s former after-school foreign language program. My older son attended Spanish classes one day a week after school in first and second grades, despite his fatigue and such limited class time as to render the exercise almost worthless.
But the district assuaged incoming parents who asked about foreign-language instruction-including me-by pointing to this program that actually did little but enrich the vendor company. I’m now wary of co-curricular programs offering more than lip-service.
Even more to the point, since adults require a certain set of skills to live independently, children should be taught those skills. Making consumer science optional interferes with that goal.
I would have opted out of my junior-high home ec class if I could have. Yet, even today, I find myself remembering snippets from it. And judging from the public’s lingering devotion to the outdated food pyramid (one starch, one meat and one vegetable at every meal!), I’m not the only one who remembers junior high.
As for industrial arts, I hear very positive reports about Hauser’s industrial arts program from my son and the parents of other students. The kids love the noise, the smell, the mystique and being entrusted with those potentially dangerous tools.
IA clearly benefits those students who will focus on vocational education in high school and those who will pursue architecture and engineering-related careers. But plenty of liberal-arts kids have a great time, too.
The unspoken sense from district officials seems to be that industrial arts’ absence is a temporary one, but that we may have seen the last of a consumer science curriculum at Hauser. And that’s a shame.