The school year that began this week will offer students a plethora of study tracks and special courses: art, Land of Israel studies, Jewish law, environmental science, philosophy, languages, theater, mass media and more. But one track that no school appears to be offering is preparation for life. The education system has a tendency to teach the skills and knowledge of previous generations and prepare students for a type of life that no longer exists.
Here are a few subjects that would be appropriate for a contemporary "preparation for life" track:
Dealing with organizations. The lives of many people have been ruined or turned into nightmares solely because they do not know how to solve problems involving the authorities and how to maximize their rights. Among other things, students would learn whom to approach with each type of problem, how to write an official letter, where to file complaints and also how to compromise.
Consumerism. Consumption is the existential essence of Western civilization in the 21st century, and the shopping mall is the center of life, in the sense of "I buy, therefore I am." Among the subjects that should be taught: comparison shopping, identifying real bargains, the value of a 50 percent discount on the second product purchased, how to read an advertisement (hint: start with the fine print at the bottom), how much it costs to use brand-name goods. This course could also teach students how to live within a budget and avoid an overdraft.
Information science. The quantity of knowledge is so vast that schools can provide only a small percentage of it. Students must be taught how to look for information on their own: on the Internet, in libraries, in archives. They must be taught how to search, process and summarize information in various spheres of life. Today's education system does not teach this.
Nutrition and diet. Almost all high school girls and some of the boys will go on a diet. The question is whether it would not be preferable to teach proper nutrition from the outset: to explain bulimia and anorexia and how dangerous they are, how to seek weight loss counseling or consult a dietitian and how to count calories. It is also possible and necessary to hold discussions on the ideal of the anorexic model, and whether and to what degree teens should succumb to it.
Typing. Schools expect children to submit their papers printed out by a computer, yet for some reason feel that they should learn to type at home, or type with one finger (in reality, parents type for their children). The time has come for the Education Ministry to realize that touch typing is no less an essential skill than reading or writing.
English correspondence. An education system whose graduates do not know how to purchase goods online in English, register for studies abroad or write an e-mail to a technical support service in English is basically unfamiliar with global society. To put it more bluntly: Anyone who does not know how to draft a decent letter in English does not really know English. If a sixth section must be added to the English matriculation course, so be it.
Two other important courses in preparing for life might be sales (the chances of working in this field are quite high) and media consumption. In general, life preparation courses should probably be added to all curricula. The question is, what should be cut to make room for them. In the final analysis, we would not want to raise our children to have life skills but no knowledge of literature, algebra or Jewish history.
One possible answer is: Do not cut anything. Instead, lengthen the school day. If Israeli governments had a little vision, they would have understood that a long school day is a supreme national goal, to which all other budgetary problems should be secondary. Since this vision is lacking, however, the curricula should be examined and relieved of subjects that have become obsolete and should therefore be removed from the compulsory list (one suggestion: trigonometry). Until that happens, the education system will continue to train our children for the world of the last century.
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