High school: useless information or preparation for life?

Not every student aspires to study engineering, world history or biochemistry at a university. For many, solving for the focal point of a hyperbola, memorizing the date of a battle fought by people who died a century ago and grasping the concept of electronegativity doesn’t seem very relevant to life beyond high school.

The California Department of Education mandates that standards in math, English, science and history must be met in high school, but whether the information students learn is practical isn’t so clear.

Senior Destiny Lopez says she just wants to be done with high school because the daily routine is meaningless. She says the endless words, numbers and figures don’t appear to line up with her real world aspirations.

“The majority of what we learn is useless information,” Lopez said. “It depends, but most of the time we don’t use that stuff in our careers. High school doesn’t teach us how to get a job.”

Being able to apply what they’ve learned in high school to the working world is a concern of students interested in entering the workforce sooner rather than later. Vocational school training or community college are their next steps, not theoretical-based study. The specific information they learn in high school borders on useless for them.

Students do learn life skills they will utilize in the workplace from high school, however. Practical lessons underlie the academic system’s structure. Parent Julie Wallis says that students develop work ethic, time management skills and proper etiquette through the experience.

“There are a lot of skills that students are getting indirectly, especially if they’re involved in different high school activities,” Wallis said.

Agricultural Chemistry, Floral Design and Horticulture teacher Tiffany Trexler says that through high school, students learn how to work together, communicate with each other, talk in front of others, work with deadlines and deal with the consequences of tardiness. Teachers have to plan their lessons according to the standards, but Trexler says that high school still prepares students for the real world with these responsibilities.

“Industries need people that can work with others and work hard,” Trexler said. “Everyone has to have those skills to be successful. Knowledge specific to the field can be gained through training later.”

Bear Creek class of 2013 alumnus Hamish Chand entered the workforce as a premises technician for AT&T a year after graduating. He studied for and took a series of vocational tests before undergoing nine weeks of training provided by the company. Although some of the information he learned in high school is irrelevant to his life today, he says that high school lessons prepared him for his job.

“If you’re just going to work at Walmart when you get out of high school I don’t think advanced information is very useful on a regular day basis,” Chand said. “Elective classes like cooking are more helpful because kids sign up for them and will actually use those skills.”

Chand says that Auto prepared him to use tools as a technician. Doing the senior project, an assignment most students claim they dread, taught him how to present himself professionally. Beyond basic skills, he says that complicated math information is beneficial for those who are interested in college and a higher-end job, not the rest of the high school student population.

Although high school academics seem to be geared towards students aiming to pursue an education at four-year college, a college degree isn’t necessary for success.

“Not everyone should go to a four year college; it’s a horrible attitude that you won’t be a success without doing that,” Algebra II and Applied Geometry teacher Dianne Spearhooton said. “The attitude of I’m ‘just’ going to Delta needs to go away.”

Matrices and other Algebra II lessons may not be relevant to life beyond high school, but what impractical high school information does offer is choice for the future. Spearhooten says that is how high school prepares students for the real world.

“By taking advanced courses like Algebra II, students are opening doors to choice,” Spearhooton said. “Those who say no slam the door shut on the rest of half the world. Students have to find their passion, then find out how they’re going to go about pursuing what they’re going to be living and breathing.”

Agricultural Earth Science, Biology and Economics teacher Suzanne Perrin also says that high school sets students up for success by allowing them to explore.

“Students are always going to remember the class on how it makes them feel, not the technical stuff they remember,” Perrin said. If they become interested in biology or agriculture, awesome; love it. As teachers we want students to feel comfortable enough to ask questions, explore and expand.”

Political alliances, figures and dates may not stick with students, but the experience and skill sets will. World Geography and US History teacher Touyia Her says that history classes teach students how to evaluate sources, make good judgment and connect the past to the future.

Her would focus on the main aspects of social content if the standards didn’t require so much material to be covered.

“The dates aren’t going to matter, but the bigger picture of what happened will,” Her said. “Even though the past is dead, it’s living with us because the ideas and concepts are still here.”

Nonetheless, there are undeniably practical subjects that high school doesn’t touch on. From home economics to ethics, these skills can be taught at home, but not every student has the opportunity.

Wallis says that high school could better equip and inform students by covering mental health more thoroughly. Freshmen health classes only give a precursory glance at the subject, and even then the district is dropping health as a graduation requirement.

“In this day and age students need to know what to do, how to handle it and where to go – mental health should be part of health education,” Wallis said.

In addition to economics, a topic she’s glad students learn, Wallis says students would also benefit from instruction on basic personal finances. Whether it involves how to balance an account online or manage checks, young adults will need to keep track of what they’re spending.

When it comes to getting hands on help with job applications, students do have an opportunity through Bear Creek’s agricultural programs. Perrin says she teaches her classes how to write resumes and cover letters in Agricultural Economics. FFA even participates in interview competitions.

Perhaps it is up to students to take advantage of the practical electives offered to suit their needs.
Regardless, senior Ngozi Elobuike says that high school lessons are overall anything but meaningless.

“[High school] allows you to see diversity and experience different ways and modes of thinking,” Elobuike said. “To a certain extent, it prepares you for the real world in that it gives you a lot of different tasks to manage at once and develops skills that you can use universally.”