It seems that every time I go online, I see another post from one of my friends bemoaning how they didn’t learn anything “useful” in high school. They point to skills such as filing taxes and taking out a loan as more important than the core academic subjects taught in schools. The Oklahoma legislature appears poised to give them their wish. House Bill 2727 would absurdly create “Adulting 101.” Adulting 101 aims to teach students about nutrition, car maintenance, household repairs, interpersonal skills, professional development, basic financial skills, and time and stress management.
This bill reminds me of the movie title, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The good of this bill is that it recognizes some of the skills mentioned in the bill, like personal finance, are worthy of being taught in schools. It is also good that the authors see that these skills aren’t currently being effectively taught, when they very well can and should be. The bad is that the bill attempts to formalize the teaching of soft skills, like proper human interaction, that students should be learning organically by interacting with teachers and peers. Thus, the bill adds to the burgeoning mission creep of public schools. The ugly is this bill is so poorly written that since an Adulting 101 class created under it “may” include the listed topics and “is not limited” to them, any given Adulting 101 class could legally not include any of the listed topics, which makes the bill look like a bait and switch exercise.
The dictionary defines “to adult” as “to behave like an adult, specifically to do things—often mundane—that an adult is expected to do.” Is teaching “adulting” really a necessary use of schools’ funding and time? Many of these skills should be learned at home, in the curriculum of other mandatory or elective courses, during extracurricular activities, or through counseling.
Some of the skills associated with “adulting” by the bill are incredibly vague and abstract. How does one impart interpersonal skills in a classroom setting, and further, how could one evaluate a student on how well they learned those skills? Many life skills simply can’t be taught in a classroom setting but can only be gained through life experience. Interpersonal skills, for example, can only be acquired by interacting with others over time. A lecture and worksheet on the topic are likely to be forgotten the second students turn in their test on the subject.
The skills in this bill that are worthy of being taught in public school could easily be included in other classes, and generally have. Oklahoma students are already required to take a personal finance course to graduate high school. This class likely covers any “basic financial skills” that an Adulting 101 class could cover alongside everything else it would be expected to include. Resume writing and searching for a job is already a part of the senior level English curriculum in many teachers’ classrooms, or should be. Likewise, skills like time and stress management would be developed over time as students must balance the coursework for all of the classes they must take.
The argument goes: If students are expected to spend a large number of their waking hours in school, perhaps schools could better prepare them for real life. There is something compelling about the argument that schools might spend more time teaching students how to file taxes and less on academic subjects. But this view is short-sighted. The core academic subjects taught in high school reflect general knowledge of subjects, such as the ability to read and write well, basic mathematical competence, and knowledge of how the world around them works, which will lead to future career opportunities. Even if students don’t pursue higher education, this knowledge is important for an educated society.
When 1 in 4 high school graduates need to take basic remediation courses in college, is it a good idea to devote resources to skills students should already be learning, whether they should be taught in another class or outside of the classroom? Schools are already struggling with what their primary mission should be, teaching core academic competencies. Adding even more to their already absurd mission list is not likely to help with that. For the skills worthy of and able to be taught in a classroom, the focus should be on why those skills are not already being learned in the appropriate class and how to remedy that problem. For those skills that can’t be taught in the classroom, students should either pick them up organically or in the appropriate setting.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.