Does the American Public School System Prepare Teenagers for Life after Graduation?


Brandy Kehl

Many young people find themselves wondering why the education system hasn't prepared them.

“Schooling is not the same as education,” stated Jack Ballard, a junior at Wyoming High School.
High school is an unforgettable transition period between being a teenager in a school setting and an adult in what many describe as the “real world.” But how does this transition work? And how does it prepare teenagers for what awaits them in life after they graduate?

To be a functioning member of society, young adults will be required to know basic skills such as how to get a job and do taxes. These are skills that are not part of the mandatory curriculum or even offered at most American public schools. What is the excuse for not offering classes on these topics?
Many teachers at Wyoming High School have been known to discuss the importance of building neural pathways in the brain. Neural pathways form in the brain when an individual learns something. These pathways are connections between thoughts, behaviors, and ideas. The significance of neural pathways are used as an argument supporting the idea that even if students never use the material they are learning, they will use the learning skills they formulated while learning the material.
“My goal, or aim, is to get people to be able to communicate their feelings and thoughts, to be good citizens and to vote,” Ms. Johnston, a Language Arts and English teacher with approximately 20 years of experience, said. “Teaching thinking is more important to me than teaching quote sandwiches,” Ms. Johnston explained, “I teach thinking through language, vocabulary, communication skills.” Language Arts are undoubtedly an important study, and teachers who take their lessons beyond the mandatory material play a large role in preparing teenagers for life. However, if the main purpose of school is to learn, in the simplest of terms, how to learn, why can’t the time and resources be put into a larger range of practical classes?

“I don’t know how to do a lot of basic life skills,” Kammie Austin-Eckert, a senior at Wyoming High School admitted, “I don’t know how to cook, I don’t know how to change the tire on my car…” When asked what she would change about her education, Kammie said that she would “[add] more life skills into the curriculum,” stating that she doesn’t feel that she knows a lot of skills she will “need to know how to do to make it” in the world. Jenna Palma, also a senior, agreed, saying that she “think[s] [she’d] have [subjects taught in school] more focused on life skills.”
“Learning how to do things that will better you in the future [is] definitely more important than, ‘Do you know how to use cosine and tangent?’” Kammie stated. And yet, a simple look on StudentVue (the program used by parents and students of Wyoming High School to check grades, GPA, and class schedules), shows that two full-year algebra credits, one full-year geometry credit, and one additional full-year mathematics credit are required to graduate. Abstract math takes up more of a student’s highschool career, meant to prepare them for life on their own, than learning life skills does.
Teachers seemed to share the same thoughts. Ms. Palomino, who is currently in her 23rd year of teaching, said that she thinks students should take “basic life skills like cooking and changing a tire.”
“Those are classes we used to have and I don’t know why we got rid of them,” Ms. Palomino commented. Luis Aguilar, a senior at Wyoming High School, expressed how much he appreciates Ms. Palomino’s Current Issues class, and how he feels that he has a better understanding of what is going on in the world because of it. Ms. Palomino stated that she does “have students who come back, and [they] talk about recognizing giving things up and making responsible choices,” as she taught in her Economics class.
An 11th grade student, Ana Salvador was asked whether or not she feels prepared for life after she graduates. “Depends on what you consider life,” she stated, “If I was a construction worker, I could find slope, [but] I wouldn’t be able to tell you [about] mortages.”
Ana expressed concern over her limited amount of knowledge regarding finances, “[As adults], we have to do the whole ‘payment’ and ‘debit.’ And I’m not prepared for that at all.”
“I know how to invest, only because of Personal Finance, which I just barely took this year,” said Luis Aguilar, referencing a class that Wyoming High School offers that teaches how to make money, maintain money, and most importantly, stay out of debt. Luis said that he believes the class should be mandatory, “I learned so much in that class.” When asked what other skills he thinks should be taught in school, he responded quickly, “Learning how to cook, that’s for sure.”
“I feel like they put more pressure on taking a gym class than Personal Finance,” junior Liam Small stated. When questioned on what important life skills he still hasn’t learned, Liam explains that learning “how to make and maintain important documents like taxes, student loans, and bank statements,” are things he still doesn’t know.

Beyond internal, personal life skills, the work world is another area many teenagers feel unprepared to enter. Jenna Palma expresses concern about “not being as prepared as [she] could be,” having the understanding that the expectation in “school environment and work environment is different.” Ms. Johnston said that she thinks high school students should learn “how to job interview,” as well as practice such interviews.
Some students get jobs during their time in high school. However, with the job market growing more competitive everyday, learning how to make oneself appealing to more professional jobs that are likely to turn into careers would be an incredibly helpful skill to learn.
Learning how to build a resume, how job interviews work, and situations one might be presented with upon receiving a job, are all skill sets that are just barely grazed over.

Reasonable subjects go beyond practical skills, and into knowledge that should be common to keep citizens safe.
Out of 24 students at Wyoming High School interviewed, 23 of them said that they were not aware of their basic human rights. Where is the line drawn on what is necessary to know? Teenagers are ruthlessly tested on abstract math and specific dates of historical events, remaining ignorant of how they deserve to be treated by the very government they learn the minimum information about.
With the political climate constantly growing with tension, learning unbiased information about what one’s rights are not only as an American citizen, but as a human being, should be a necessity.
Mr. Cornell, in his 23rd year of teaching, stated that he believes students should be taught “media literacy, so they can understand what different [forms of] media are trying to get them to do.” Mr. Cornell went on to express that “[teenagers are] bombarded with stuff all the time and [he] think[s] it’s important to understand that and think critically.”
Fake news is a term frequently used in day-to-day conversation and multiple forms of media, but what does this mean and how should people know how to tell the difference?

Social skills also have proven to be on-topic when discussing what is learned in high school. However, it might not be directly taught.
When asked if she felt that highschool prepared her for life, Ms. Palomino said that although she didn’t feel prepared academically, she did in terms of “just intermingling with people who were different.”
“You learn that you have to have a little maturity,” the Economics and Current Issues teacher said with a smile.
Ana Salvador said that “[she] feel[s] like interpersonal skills should be taught,” handling topics such as “how to carry a conversation [and] how to handle relationships.” Referring to Wyoming High School’s renowned Alpha Wolf program, Ana said, “I know we teach Kind, Compassionate, and Gracious, but for some people it just doesn’t click. There’s more than Kind, Compassionate, and Gracious.”
It is true that morality and character are commonplace topics, but as far as more practical everyday skills, students like Ana feel that the education system is lacking. “You wanna check your bank statement? You’re gonna talk to the bank! That’s something that isn’t taught in school.”
Social skills are a popular topic when discussing high school, but the conversation rarely goes past basic respect. Professionalism, debate, and diversity are all factors that everyone will encounter in their lives.
Although communicational skills may not be as pressing of a matter as learning how to do basic repairs or build a resume, it is still relevant and would benefit many people who don’t “click” with what is taught by experience.

To question what is mandatory to learn in high school is not to say that the current curriculum isn’t worth learning, but are extensive lessons on four main subjects the best use of student’s time? Why aren’t the previously discussed topics at least offered as classes? Many of these subjects would not be costly or incredibly difficult to implement. Interviews with students of Wyoming High School indicate that if practical skill-based classes were offered, there would be no shortage of students willing to partake in them.
Supplying practical classes seem to meet all needs. Neural pathways would still be built and students would feel more fulfilled knowing that they would be directly using the skills they learn. So what is the American education system’s excuse?
The response that awaits many students who ask where they will learn important material not taught in school is to ask their parents. This is deeply flawed as there are an infinite number of reasons that a young adult may not have access to someone who has answers and is willing to teach.
Some students do not have parents who are able, physically or mentally, to explain how to do things like taxes and job interviews, let alone laws of the country they live in. Stating that teenagers should learn basic knowledge from their parents is to say that the current education system is failing to provide the most rudimentary of information. What is school for if not to develop programs that teach soon-to-be adults how to handle what they will be confronted within just a couple years? But, where will students be after high school?
“When will I use this?” is the age-old question that teachers are bombarded with daily. Many high school students are told that the classes they take will be important preparation for similar standard common core classes they will take in college. However, how does this come into play for teenagers who don’t want to go to college after high school? By reasonable estimate, a good portion of teenagers will not seek further education after graduating from high school due to financial situations and personal preferences, among other reasons. Jack Ballard offered a unique perspective, “I have no idea what I want to do [after high school], and that scares me.” There seems to be a direct correlation between when life skills were removed from the curriculum and when it became more common for teenagers to go to college after high school than not.
And yet, even for those who do wish to go to college, the proper resources to learn how things such as student loans work just do not seem to be readily available. With college being the main focus throughout high school, many students expressed feeling as though their grades come before actually learning the material taught in their classes. “Some people don’t learn at [the] pace that the system requires us to learn at,” Ana Salvador said frustratedly. “It gets me mad how everything is based off your grades and SAT scores and not your potential to learn,” agreed Luis Aguilar, “I think school now is all about passing and not about learning. […] I wish there was less pressure. Obviously education is a necessity. I just feel like it should be more about learning how to do it, rather than learn it, forget about it, move on to the next section.” Jenna Palma sheepishly admitted to “[copying] off of a friend more than once,” for the sake of saving her grade. Kammie Austin-Eckert stated that if “[she’s] struggling in a class, [she’ll] just memorize the words.”
With such an overwhelming number of students stressing over their GPA rather than what they learn in their classes, why does the system proceed to push numbers over what really matters? This brings the focus back to college and the expectations set on teenagers as soon as they enter high school. Instead of learning how to be prepared for life, high schoolers are learning how to make it into college, which consists of indirect lessons in how to push the numbers before all else.

This is a problem. Students are memorizing rather than learning the majority of the time, and when they do learn, they aren’t connecting with what they’re learning. The issue is so enormous, it is impossible to go undetected. If these complications are able to be resolved, they will have to be detected at the source.
The education system falls under the government, leading to the question: Why would the government want young adults to not know knowledge about the laws and expectations of their own country? Unfortunately, the less educated people are, the easier they are to manipulate. Those who are not aware of their surroundings are less likely to question events that may be corrupt or reason for concern. While this may at first appear to be a dramatized claim, the histories of past organizations prove that a government that wishes to go through with controversial policies or reinforce certain biased ideals will keep its citizens occupied with day-to-day life, leaving them little time to study, let alone question, the civilization they operate in. The sick and twisted truth of the matter is that these problems have not been ignored, they have been denied.

So, to answer the question of whether or not the American public school system prepares teenagers for life after graduation; no. The system fails to create adults that are confident in their ability to function in a society in which they must earn a living, obey laws, and communicate with hundreds of people. This is an unfortunate truth that must be addressed.
The American public school system is open to everyone, so it should teach everyone how to function in a very public American society. Government officials in charge of educational decisions will undoubtedly be feeling the disheartening effects of the frustration radiating off of students as they talk about their future. The youth of today are beginning to question why they aren’t taught important topics they’ll need to know as they become adults. “They need to prepare us more,” commented Luis Aguilar, “I know the basics, I know how to live a life. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, I feel like there’s more I should know.” The rising generation has spoken, and they say that the bottom line is not good enough.