Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Schools Need To Change With The Times

My eight-year-old came home the other day with his first practice sheets for cursive writing. I'm sure we all remember these a a a a a a a , b b b b b b, c c c c c c, etc. only I can't display it in cursive writing because keyboards don't work that way unless you specifically choose a font to do that.

It was the same day I had a lunch with a co-worker who was lamenting that her husband, who owns a company in the trades industry, couldn't find good, or even simply warm-bodied, workers. The best he, and many other people in the same boat, can do these days is patch things up and tell customers the real repairs will be done at a future date. My wife's brother owns a company in exactly the same industry but he's located in Toronto. He has the same problem.

It got me thinking about what we should be teaching our kids in school. Sure, I guess my children should know cursive writing but I'd elect to spend just as much time teaching them keyboarding. You tell me which is going to be more important to their future communication skills and employment prospects: beautiful penmanship or the ability to sit down at a computer and accurately prepare a typewritten document?

High school's the same. The two most useful things I learned in high school were typing (there it is again) and cooking. Marketing management was another because it touched on budgeting. Algebra? No. Physics? No. History? Loved it but didn't want to be a historian. English? Yeah, I became a journalist and still work in communications. But I'm not sure that if it hadn't been my chosen field that I would have taken much from all the poems and Shakespeare plays we read and dissected and the essays we wrote around them.

I'm not implying kids shouldn't learn those things. They most certainly should, if that's where their interests lie. But what about the trades? Construction, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, drill press operators and many, many more high paying, respectable professions? We don't teach those in the schools and most districts, here anyway, don't even have apprenticeship programs. Not every kid wants or can go on to post-secondary education but we've set it as the benchmark of a successful child.

Too bad. My brother-in-law (who actually has an engineering degree) is 7 years younger than me, owns his own huge home pretty much outright near Toronto, drives several extremely expensive cars, holidays all over the world and could retire tomorrow if he didn't have so much energy that he'd go crazy. He's had his company for about a decade. If one of my kids wanted to enter his profession, I'd be all for it.

On a semi-related note, I read today that a Finnish author has published the world's first novel in nothing but text message language. It's appropriate the author was Finnnish because Nokia is based there. It's probably the world's most reputable provider and developer of cellphones and associated technologies.

I'm thinking cursive script is not going to capture any teenager's or pre-teenager's imagination in quite the same way. I'm also thinking it's not going to be offered as a course elective any time soon.

On an totally unrelated note, I have to travel for a few days and may not have time to blog. But, I'll be back. Tonight I get to spend three hours in the Salt Lake City, Utah airport. I can hardly wait for that three per cent beer...


cube said...

You make some good points. Not everyone is cut out for college. Very decent livings can be made in the trades, but it seems like tech schools & apprenticeships are few & far between. How's a kid supposed to learn a trade?

I'd hate to see cursive not being taught at schools. It's so much faster than print. I guess that makes me a dinosaur ;-)

Michael said...

Very intersting take on trades... There is a prejudice in our society against getting one's hands dirty, and that is unfortunate, because a lot of skilled trade work is, as you say, high paying and respectable.

I know guy from high school who ended up becoming a trucker... he pulls in 100,000+ per year now, and just bought his own rig.

On a side note, my 4 year old has started writing actual letters. Once we get through the whole alef bet, I'll start the English alphabet with her...