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Would You Hire Your Own Kids? 7 Skills Schools Should be Teaching Them

Schools aren't teaching the skills our kids need. Why?

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“What’s happening to your mixture,” I ask the group.

“Donno,” one mutters. “We must have mixed it up wrong.”

“What’s your hypothesis about what happened—why it’s smoking?”

The three look at each other, and then the student who has been doing all the speaking looks at me and shrugs.

“Do you know what a hypothesis is?” I press.

My question is greeted with blank looks. Finally, their spokesperson says, “We had it on a test as a vocab question. Isn’t it—like—an idea of what’s supposed to happen?”

Advanced Placement U.S. Government

The teacher is finishing up reviewing answers to a sample test that the class took the previous day which contains 80 multiple choice questions related to the functions and branches of the federal government.

When he’s done, he says “Okay, now let’s look at some sample free response questions from previous years’ AP exams.” He flips the overhead projector on, turns out the lights, and reads from the text of a transparency: Give 3 reasons why the Iron Triangle may be criticized as undemocratic.

“How would you answer this question?” the teacher asks. No one replies. “Ok, who can give me a definition of the Iron Triangle?”

“The military-industrial-congressional complex,” a student pipes up.

“Okay, so what would be three reasons why it would be considered undemocratic?” The teacher calls on a student in the front row who has his hand half raised, and he answers the question in a voice that we can’t hear over the hum of the projector’s fan.

“Good. Now let’s look at another one.” The teacher flips another transparency onto the projector. “Now this question is about bureaucracy. Let me tell you how to answer this one . . .”

Advanced Placement English

It is the beginning of class, and the teacher explains that they are going to review students’ notes on the literature they will use to answer questions on the Advanced Placement exam, which will be given next week. There are seven students in the room, and all of them are deeply slouched in their chairs, which are arranged in a semi-circle around the teacher’s desk.

The teacher is seated at her desk, as she asks: “Now what is Woolf saying about the balance between an independent versus a social life?”

Students ruffle through their notebooks. Finally, a young woman, reading from her notes, answers, “Mrs. Ramsey sought meaning from social interactions.”

“Yes, that’s right. Now what about the artist, Lily? How did she construct meaning?”

“Through her painting,” another student mumbles, her face scrunched close to her notes.

“And so what is Woolf saying about the choices these two women have made, and what each has sacrificed?”

No reply. The teacher sighs, gets up, goes to the board and begins writing.

Once in a great while, I observe a class where a teacher is using academic content as a means of developing students’ core competencies. When you see such a class, the contrast to the others is stark:

Algebra II

It is the beginning of the period, and the teacher is finishing up writing a problem on the board. He turns to the students, who are sitting in desk-chairs which are arranged in squares of four that face one another. “You haven’t seen this kind of problem before,” he explains. “And solving it will require you to use concepts from both geometry and algebra. Each group will try to develop at least two different ways of solving this problem. After all the groups have finished, I’ll randomly choose someone from each group who will write one of your proofs on one of the boards around the room, and I’ll ask that person to explain the process your group used. Are there any questions?”