Do Our High Schools Teach Students the Real Basics of Life?

A couple of months ago my 18 year old son had to mail a letter off to request his high school transcripts.  Before it went into the mailbox I took a look at it and realized that he had the “to” and “from” labels backwards.  It never occurred to me that my son wouldn’t know how to mail off a letter properly.  When I was younger, in elementary school and even higher, we had to send off letters to pen pals, government officials, and even some companies seeking correspondence.  Everything is done digitally now so my son had never had to learn.  At the same time, I’m seeing credit card offers coming for him in the mail.  He’s almost 19, so legally he can get one if he wanted to, but what a huge mistake that would be for him at this point in his life.  He’d have $10,000 racked up in debt in no time.  We’ve sat down together and discussed how credit cards and other loans work so I know he has some basic knowledge, but I would really love for him to learn much more before he jumps into that pool.  I’ve spoken to other parents who have had the same realizations about their children, but nothing changes.  

I have had 3 kids in high school thus far and still have 1 more to go.  High School is where they begin their preparations for becoming functioning adults.  Kids are expected, between the ages of 15-18, to demonstrate that they can handle some adult responsibility and in return they will get more freedom.  In class they are taught basics like math, English, science, and even have electives like shop, music, and art where they can explore their interests, but what about things like balancing a checkbook, how important your credit score is, how to do a great interview, how to file your taxes, and other basic real-world knowledge?  Only 13 states in the US require a basic financial class to graduate high school.  How is that acceptable?

Go online and you can read story after story about people
who get out of high school, decide to go to college, and get student loans to pay for everything.  They assume that they’ll go through college, get a great job, make lots of money because they have a degree, and then pay off their loans easily.  Many don’t realize that if you make only the minimum payment on loans, how much longer it will take you to pay it off because the majority of the payment covers only the interest you’ve accrued. (What Happens If I Only Pay The Minimum on My Credit Card?) Fast forward to your mid 30’s and they’re still trying to pay off their loans and they’ve damaged their credit score.   They’ve essentially mortgaged their futures without realizing the long term affect that loans can have.  I’m not saying college is unnecessary or loans are a bad idea, but if they fully understood what they were getting into, they might think twice or have a PT job to help with expenses rather than having to borrow more money.  Maybe a basic financial class in school would be a good idea?

What about other things that kids should know before graduating?  Things like having a marketable skill?  Many young people don’t go because they have family or financial responsibilities that prevent them from going.  They graduate high school and go directly into FT employment.  How do we prepare them for the real world then?  Recently, I read an article in Modern Machine Shop Magazine about a school in Wisconsin that actually has a machine shop that is run by their students.  This isn’t just your run of the mill AG shop.  This is a real, working, profit building machine shop.  The name of the company is Cardinal Manufacturing.  The kids in this program make and weld machined parts for customers.  They are, in fact, a functioning job shop.  Their profits have even allowed them to purchase modern CNC equipment and provide profit sharing for the students that work there.  In addition to machining, these kids also learn valuable skills like customer service, ordering materials and invoicing.  Their program has become so successful that 6 other schools in and around the state have started something similar.  What an amazing way to give our kids a head start in life!

Here, in Grass Valley CA, our high school has a fantastic AG department.  The students in this program learn forestry, welding, woodworking, mechanics, electrical work, bookkeeping, animal
husbandry, sales skills, and a lot more.  I’ve gone to some of their Parli Pro meetings (Parliamentary Procedure Career Development, which is part of FFA) and am amazed at how these kids run the whole show. During the Parliamentary Procedure CDE, teams conduct a mock chapter meeting to demonstrate their knowledge of basic parliamentary law and the correct use of parliamentary procedures.  It’s like watching high school students in a congressional meeting.  Other students in the AG dept create things out of wood and metal that are sold at the annual county fair.  Last year I saw beautiful tables, chairs, lamps, swings, trailers, etc that students sold for hundreds of dollars.  The craftsmanship of these items was fantastic.  Many students raise livestock and sell them at the fair also.  I’ve watched some of these kids and they have to put a lot of work into caring, grooming and training their animals.  They usually make a pretty decent profit, but they have learned that they must put in some serious time and hard work for it.  In a time when so many adults are complaining about a lazy and entitled generation, it is wonderfully refreshing to see that these kids know what it means to work hard for something and they do it day in and day out.

What I am trying to get at, is that we are in dire need of more programs like these for our kids.  Why are we not preparing our children to enter the workforce and the world of paying bills and becoming financially responsible?  If we really want them to live a successful life and do better than we did then we need to start equipping them for that.  How many times have you gotten into a loan or into credit card debt and wish you’d realized from the beginning what you were really getting yourself into?  Did you really worry about your credit score when you were 19?  How many of our youth would benefit from job training before they have to be out on their own and worrying about paying bills?  In high school, the majority of young people start out working fast food jobs or retail.  I’ve done it and it was fine.  It paid what bills I had, but I couldn’t own a home and raise 3 kids on that kind of pay either (Can 2 Parents, 2 Kids Live on Minimum Wage? Not Even Close: NBC Report).  I definitely couldn’t do things like go on vacation or pay for braces for my children.   Classes and programs like these give our kids a boost.  Isn’t that what we’re trying to do for them?
 Below are a few links to sources that I have found are worth browsing through.  Let’s start getting our children prepared for success! 


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