Thursday, April 21, 2011
Kids These Days
This is probably going to be more serious than I want it to be, but when I think of things kids should know these days, I get pretty practical. And while you might think I'd be biased towards something like writing a cover letter or being able to read and understand the newspaper (being an English teacher and all), what I think every student should know these days has to do with math.
When I was a senior in high school I was very concerned about getting into my "top tier" school, which was, in my case, Emerson College in Boston (I got in, by the way). I knew I would need good grades, a relatively strong SAT score, and that my transcripts would need to show a student who challenged herself academically. When my senior year rolled around and I had a choice between not taking any math courses, taking something "easy" like senior math or personal finance, or pre-Calculus I did the only logical thing a paranoid kid who was desperate to get into a good college does--I took pre-calc. Even though I had applied to Emerson as a writing and publishing major. Even though, if I had a good average in all my high school math courses, I wouldn't have to take math (and taking pre-calc would likely ruin that chance) if I went to Emerson. Even though I knew it would make what was supposed to be a fun and easy year really, really miserable.
But I went to pre-calc faithfully. It was the only class besides my AP Literature class (which I loved) that I didn't skip on a regular basis. I learned to determine the area of ellipses and how to write a proof and how to graph random shit on a computer. I learned that I could receive extra credit by bringing in whoopie pies to the teacher. I made a lot of whoopie pies. I also learned that pre-calc was a complete, utter, and total waste of my time.
It was getting close to the end of the year and I had been accepted at all the colleges I had applied to, so I was feeling a little...exhausted...when it came to pre-calc. We were working our way through a particularly difficult and monotonous proof when finally I raised my hand and asked:
"Mr. Morgan, when are we ever going to need this?"
Mr. Morgan, bless his heart, stopped writing something on the board, looked at me, confused, and replied, "I just said that you'll need this to do your homework for next class and--"
"No, when will I ever need this in my actual life?"
Mr. Morgan pauses then looks at me, knowing what I'm after. "What are you planning on majoring in at college, Kirsten?"
"Yep, you'll never see this again."
I like telling this story, and I have a bunch of times, for a variety of reasons, but this is the first time I'm telling it to make this point: I shouldn't have been in that class. For one, it ended up not mattering. I got in to Emerson, and I don't think they took a second glance at the fact that I was enrolled in pre-calc. The university I ended up going to didn't give a damn that I took some high level math class--they were just glad I could add and I ended up enrolling in a Math 100 course my freshman year to get the math requirement out of the way. (See, after all that, I still had to take math!)
For two, two years after taking that math course, I was a new mom and living off-campus with my fiance (now husband). And we didn't know jack-shit about household finances. Sure, I could solve proofs and graph lines on a computer, but could I make a budget? No. Could I figure out what our mortgage would be if we bought a house? Nada. Could I write up a grocery list, figure out sales tax, and actually add everything together without having to use a calculator? Absolutely not. It has been an uphill battle, these last few years, trying to figure out how to do all that in the thick of the battle. It's like learning to shoot a gun in the middle of a firefight.
Yes, I know a lot of people learn how to do these things before they have children, those so called "responsible adults." Well, I didn't have that chance. Life happens. And life happens to a lot of people, and they are unprepared. Consider the wealth (no pun intended) of financial woes people and this country are facing these days--it's becoming more and more important people, even elementary and middle schoolers, never mind seniors in high school who are about to be thrust into the "real world," to understand the importance of money and how it works.
If there is anything that students should be required to learn about in school or in life, it should be about personal finance. It shouldn't be an option, it should be required, because when you are out on your own, knowing how to appropriately use your money isn't an option, even if some people think otherwise.