Op-Ed: American high schools and colleges should integrate life skills education into curricula

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Elena Plumb, contributor

“When will I use this information?” is a question oft-uttered by the typical high school or college student in the United States. One can spend countless hours memorizing the battles of the Revolutionary War or the functions of cell parts, but unless they become a history professor or a doctor, such knowledge will be rather fruitless in the long run.  

Consider student A, a history fanatic, and student B, an aspiring engineer. Once active in their respective fields, it’s most likely that Student A will be free of geometry equations and student B will never be challenged with another historical research essay. However, it is inevitable that both student A and student B will be tasked to balance their checkbooks, cook a meal, pay a mortgage, communicate with others respectfully and maintain mental health. These skills are universally demanded, regardless of career, which begs the question: Should schools integrate life skills education into curricula?  

Modern American high schools aim to prepare students for college, and modern American colleges aim to prepare students for the professional world. In an effort to introduce students to an array of subjects and potential career fields, high school curricula in Massachusetts often include at least a year of education in six core disciplines: mathematics, English, lab-based science, history, arts and foreign language. Collegiate general education requirements adhere to similar foci. Although broad exposure to various subjects can facilitate a student’s decision regarding which career path to take, much of the information learned eventually becomes superfluous. Skills like changing a tire, cooking and sewing, however, are directly applicable to an individual’s daily life, which suggests that home economics classes might be a practical seventh core discipline. 

Despite their utility, the presence of home economics classes in schools have decreased by almost 40% in the past decade. A resurgence of the home economics-style class may help students become more competent in society, but advancements in technology, the internet and apps have quieted the demands for life skills education in schools. Today, someone stranded with a flat tire can call AAA for assistance, someone craving a certain meal can open the Postmates app and arrange for delivery from their favorite restaurant and someone with a tear in their clothing can learn to repair it by viewing a sewing tutorial on YouTube. Nevertheless, such technological resources will not always be at one’s disposal; therefore, one cannot consistently rely on external assistance to complete basic tasks. 

A study by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning uncovered that high school students believed their schools fell short in cultivating key social and emotional values within the student body. Given the fact that one in three college freshmen struggle with mental illness, promoting skills such as positive thinking, time management and communication in the classroom may improve students’ wellbeing. By overlooking education in said skills, academic institutions discredit their own duty of preparation. They inadequately equip their students for the world outside of the school bubble.  

 A common counterargument asserts that parents are responsible for instilling life skills within their children, but not every parent is able to play the role of teacher in addition to caretaker and financial provider. What if a parent is working multiple jobs to sustain themselves and their children? Or what if a parent does have the time to teach such skills, but they happen to model poor money management and communication skills themselves? In schools, all students would be taught by a qualified professional, ensuring that no student’s home life puts them at a disadvantage. 

To fulfill their mission of building all students into capable, resourceful individuals with the capacity to excel beyond the classroom, it is imperative that schools create space for life skills education. While semester-long courses may not be the solution, perhaps a week’s worth of classes or a full day of seminars addressing a variety of skills would suffice. The incorporation of life skills education into curricula would not impede students’ learning of the classic core subjects, it would only aid in preparing students for every facet of adulthood.

Elena Plumb is a first-year journalism major.