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What Teens Aren’t Learning, What Parents Can Do

by Jane Wangersky | March 11th, 2016 | School, Teens

welcome back to schoolIn 2012, a Gallup Poll found that “For too many American students, high school is a time of disengagement that fails to put them on a path to college and career success.” In numerical terms, while nearly 80% of elementary students said they were highly engaged in school, only 44% of high school students said the same. Many parents will have noticed a falloff in enthusiasm as their kids settle into high school and may have put it down to teen angst — but may have suspected there’s more to the problem.

Author Rajat Bhageria would agree. In 2014, just out of Sycamore High in Cincinnati, he published What High School Didn’t Teach Me: A Recent Graduate’s Perspective on How High School is Killing Creativity. Though Bhageria enjoyed high school, he thought the system could use a major overhaul, and the issues he writes about will resonate with parents. Like the Gallup Poll, he noticed that while elementary students typically like school, high school students seem to spend most of their class time wishing they were somewhere else.

There are many reasons, Bhageria says: Reading assignments aren’t relevant to students’ lives, “experiments” have predictable outcomes, students learn to focus on passing a test rather than actually learning things they’ll remember. Not just a complaint, the book offers many suggested solutions. However, most of them are beyond parents’ control to bring about.

So what can parents take away from this book? That can be summed up in a “rage social-network post” Bhageria includes:

Things I Never Learned in High School
How to do taxes.
What taxes are.
How to vote.
How to write a resumé/cover letter.
Anything to do with banking.
How to apply for loans for college.
How to buy a car or house . . .
But thank my lucky stars, I can tell you all about Pythagorean theorems.

Life skills like that can certainly be taught (or caught) at home — they may be too much to expect from the school. After all, along with how to vote goes who to vote for.

Problem solving is another neglected area where parents can step in. (Bhageria didn’t mind having to learn the Pythagorean theorem, he just thinks it would’ve been better to be taught why it works.) While homeschooling, I actually treated this as a regular subject for a while. If you don’t have that option, it’s worth it to slow down and let your teen make mistakes while coming to decisions.

Entrepreneurship is something else parents can encourage. Bhageria now has several businesses while studying at university; your teen probably won’t want to go that far, but you can certainly encourage them to do freelance work or join a business-oriented activity. Apparently those kids selling cake pops in the hall on parent-teacher conference days are learning more doing that than they do in class.

Bhageria’s book gives parents, teens, and teachers a lot to think about. It’s available free in pdf at Goodreads.

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