In 1575 Michel de Montaigne said, “The boy we would breed has a great deal less time to spare; he owes but the first fifteen or sixteen years of his life to education; the remainder is due to action”. We ought to return to this thought and apply it to our current public education system. High school education just lasts too long. Think about your average junior or senior in high school. Many of them spend most of their time not working for society, but instead feeding off it like leeches to support their habits of keeping up with popular culture and playing practical jokes on each other during the weekends. Yes, this is a gross generalization of the way high school students spend their time to which a myriad of counterexamples could be adduced. But at my suburban Portland, Ore area school, this description just about fits the bill.
That generalization applies to the more successful, smart, rich kids at a given school. There is another group of students who barely pass their classes because either they don’t try and don’t care, or they just can’t achieve at the level that juniors and seniors in high school can acheive.
My proposed solution for our three groups of students, the rich goof-offs, the underachievers, and those who cannot achieve at a high level, is simple: eliminate the junior and senior year of high school. That puts high school graduates at about age 16, a reasonable age to begin contributing to our society. High school students are in school for the purpose of learning so that they can grow up to be the “future leaders of America;” they can hold the jobs that make our economy and society go. However, if they are not effectively accomplishing this, they are wasting our tax dollars. It is expensive to pay fo the facilities, administration, and teachers that make public education work.
But how could this possibly work in practice? Let me offer a few ideas.
For the rich, successful kids, this would push them to enter the university sooner to learn to do the jobs that make our society and country run. (I don’t think the university’s purpose ought to train us to do jobs, but I’m mainly concerned with practical matters.) Some will say that this is too young of an age socially to sent kids off to the university. To which I answer: people generally rise to what authorities expect of them. Also, these students don’t have to go straight to the university. They could travel abroad, do charity work, or simply live at home and work at Starbucks. They could still hang out with their friends, but the idea is to get them contributing to our economy by doing something productive and not mooching off of taxpayers.
Those who slack in high school, the disinterested masses of students who dislike school and have average to acute problems within their souls, generally do not benefit from staying in school. If they hate it, why make them go and barely pass? This is not accomplishing the goal of producing productive citizens. For this group, as for the successful slackers, junior and senior year accomplish almost nothing. They too ought to have the level of expectations raised for them. They should be (generally) given the tough love approach: go get a job and take care of yourself. They wouldn’t be pressured to go to the university, though some might after experiencing the rigors of a blue collar job.
Finally, for those who don’t underachieve yet still don’t make the cut: they should find an apprenticeship and learn to do a trade well. This is an excellent way to spend two years that would have been wasted barely passing tests to only become a carpenter anyway. Skills centers have thrived by taking this sort of student and giving them an advantage on the competition by offering practical training in a trade – this is something heady european history and calculus classes can’t offer.
So let us cast off the shackles of the largely ineffective last two years of high school and free young students to begin filling their niche in society.