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The Life Skills Gap
posted by: Melissa | January 30, 2018, 06:51 PM   

There’s been a lot of debate recently on what students need to know to be “college and career ready.” Typically, the debate centers on how high the standards for math and reading should be, how much social studies and science high school grads should participate in, and whether career and technical education should be given renewed emphasis. What seldom gets mentioned are the many small tasks that are essential to everyday life, but never make it into the curriculum.


We know that skills like filing taxes, saving money, applying for jobs, time management skills, and the like can make or break an individual in their first few years of adulthood, but we seldom give thought to how we should approach these skills. Often, schools assume that students are either being taught these skills at home by their parents or gain them through life experience, but that is not always the case. Both research and anecdotal evidence points to our students having trouble with everyday tasks after they graduate from high school.


Despite this, many are unconvinced that schools should be stepping in to help fill this gap. They point to an already crowded curriculum and wonder what we’d be willing to give up to make room for life skill courses. Others worry that a life skill course would be self-defeating. By taking these skills and removing them from the circumstances where they’d be used and needed, we’d be robbing them of their authenticity and relevance, which we know is essential for students to internalize what they’ve learned.


On the opposite side, proponents of teaching life skills argue that no matter how academically successful a student is, they are set up for failure if they can’t master certain essential skills. This fact is urgent for students who may not have a support structure at home to help them muddle through their first years of adulthood. Some students will be taught these skills at home and gain them through life experience, but not all will.


Educators who have placed a high value on teaching life skills have gone a long way to integrate them into the curriculum. Many schools use their extra-curriculars to teach students these skills and allow students to run and manage newspapers, stores, performance scheduling, and other tasks sometimes conducted by staff. A few schools take things further. Slater High School recently debuted their “Life Academy.” This program, which is designed to teach students skills like research, family planning, legal rights, budgeting, etc., will be conducted on days where there is an early dismissal and a normal class schedule is otherwise impossible.


The inclusion of life skills does not have to lead to a full-fledged rewriting of the curriculum or school structure. Individual teachers can help students acquire life skills by raising awareness of them in the classroom through discussion and the incorporation of certain skills into already planned projects and lessons.


How do you address teaching life skills in your classroom?

Share below!


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