People tend to conflate doing well in high school with being able to get into a good college. They don’t often talk about doing well in school to prepare for a job — or for life in general.

A graduate's inability to make change was recently discussed at a school board meeting. This is something you might have witnessed at a store or restaurant and the cashier seemed to struggle to figure out the change. If the computers are down and the cashier can’t use the calculator, you might not be able to complete your transaction.

This isn’t just an issue of job training; this is an issue of people not being able to maintain a firm grasp on basic math, If you order a No. 1 meal at a fast-food restaurant at a cost of $10.58 and you hand the cashier a $20 bill, it shouldn’t be difficult for him or her to hand you $9.42 back.

As subtraction is typically taught in grade school, why has making change become an issue? Have students forgotten basic math? If so, why? It could be a lack of repetition or perhaps an issue with the initial teaching?

If students are unable to make change, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to think they might also find balancing a budget difficult. A graduate might struggle to pay bills if they find it difficult to add up expenses and subtract the money that has already been spent. This is a good recipe for debt and poverty.

There are three good reasons for students to learn math. The first is if they want to be a math teacher. The second is to prepare students who might be seeking a career in the STEM (science, technology, economics, or math) fields. After all, you do want your nurse to be able to calculate how much medicine to give you, and it would be ideal for a nuclear physicist to be able to have a firm grasp of measurements.

The third reason is to prepare students with skills that will allow them to function in the real world. No matter what career someone choses, that person will need to know how to balance a checkbook, calculate mileage, and, yes, make change.

Economics is something on which every student should have a firm grasp prior to graduation — interest rate, taxes, different returns based on account types, etc. Another example of math being used in everyday life is cooking — an inability to measure ingredients might result in dinner guests lining up for the bathroom.

Practicing math helps build problem-solving skills. There will be situations in life that require significant thought, weighing the options, exploring the possibilities. Whether or not numbers are involved, life is very much an equation with variables that must be factored in.

It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to ensure that all schools have shop class. Metal, wood, auto — the whole trifecta — should be included. A lot in this area is on the parents to teach their children, but it wouldn’t hurt, at the very least, to have shop as an elective.

Going back to math, the costs of mechanics and repairmen add up after awhile. When people don’t know how to make repairs, or are knowledgeable in mechanics, they are at the behest of those who have turned that knowledge into a profession. I’m not saying that all people in this field will overcharge or take advantage of customers’ lack of knowledge. However, if you don’t have any basic knowledge on how something works, you won’t be able to tell the honest mechanic from one who is conniving and opportunistic. Even without the ability to purchase the necessary parts for a particular repair, some basic knowledge provided by a high school shop class will come in handy many times during a lifetime.

Graduates need to be taught what to expect in terms of employment following high school or college. The career or degree path students go on is ultimately their choice, but some grounding in reality might be prudent.

Many graduates go on to peruse degrees that don’t pay off in the long run. If you have money set aside to take a course that interests you, but won’t aid you in your job search, there’s no down side. If your sole intention is to seek employment, however, you might want to avoid a degree that doesn’t match that goal. An understanding of this ahead of a student’s declaration of a major would prevent significant and unnecessary financial hardship. High school students should be aware of the practicality of certain degrees before they head to college. A student should understand the relation of subjects taught in school as they apply to the real world.

There is a push for students to go to college, and many should, however there is nothing wrong with a trade school or a rewarding career path. Instead of pushing students to go to college, parents, teachers, and society in general, should push students to follow a path that is right for them.

Shelby County Public Schools does have various programs that encourage and aid students in finding alternatives to college. All schools, and society in general, should be OK with that concept.

There’s a joke that has been making the rounds on social media: A series of picture depicts a mother and her child watching a garbage man. The mother points to the garbage man and says; “Do well in school so you don’t end up like him.” In the next frame, the garbage man turns around and says, “You mean making six figures and having great benefits?”

The joke points out that there is no shame in taking a job that doesn’t require a college degree, because, in many cases, a high school graduate can earn a good living without attending college if they have the proper life skills.

As far as life skills go, math isn’t the only building block that could use some work. Students should be well versed on the legal system. I’m not talking about a prelaw level of studying; graduates just need to know their rights, as well as laws to which they need to abide. Ideally, citizens won’t have any issues with law enforcement or the legal system, but it would be a good idea for graduates to be well versed on the Bill of Rights in case he/she is pulled over. The fourth amendment, for instance, is something in which many might be hazy.

If someone has the opportunity to open a business, they will need to know the laws dealing with buying land land, zoning regulations, and building codes. Opening a restaurant or bar requires adherence to health codes and liquor laws.

College isn’t required to do these things, but a legal studies class in high school would go a long way in preparing a graduate for that potential future investment. The original topic of discussion, math, will come into play as well.

Math isn’t the only issue in which students seem to be falling behind. There’s no guarantee that you could stop a recent graduate on the street and getting correct response if you ask that person a questions regarding history. Many graduates can’t name all of the presidents. Many can’t tell you what led to the Revolutionary War, what the Monroe Doctrine was, what the Crusades were, or what two countries involved in the Hundred Years' War.

Many students are unaware all of the progress of the 20th century, but with its constant mayhem, historians believe it was actually the bloodiest of all time. What’s worse is some people do know who the architects of said destruction were, and they think they were brilliant men with a wonderful philosophies.

You might wonder the purpose of learning history. Unlike math, you’re not going to be able to able to balance your budget or make change with what you learned in history class. Learning history isn’t about providing students with a universal building block that will prepare them for a career. In fact, there is a narrow field in which history will be used for work.

There are, however, still practical reasons for teaching history in schools. The first is so people will understand the present. We can’t understand the benefits or faults in our society if we don’t know the events that led to where we are now.

Learning about history also gives students an appreciation for the present. Things are far from perfect, but any historian would tell you that life is much easier in 2022 than at any other time.

The second reason it is important to be a well-rounded history student is to honor the dead. The present is built on the backs of those that came before us and laid the groundwork for the present. Leaders, explorers, soldiers, inventors, abolitionist, civil rights workers — these are people who have put in the work to provide freedoms, conveniences, and prosperity we have today. Some died to do so.

No. 3: History is taught is to cement the names of evil men and women in infamy. Just as some men and women deserve to be remembered for the good they’ve done, others deserve to be remembered for the bad. People like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Genghis Khan have been responsible for some of the most prolific tragedies in human history. One way a society can punish men like those is to ensure that an eternal disdain for them and their misdeeds continues to exist.

The final and most important reason that schools should focus more on teaching history is to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. An accomplished student of history can spot the signs of tyranny, war, or economic collapse. Someone without the proper knowledge of history might read or listen to propaganda and not realize it, and over time, that person will accept lies as truth. Governments don’t become totalitarian overnight. Any dictator who has toppled democracy will tell you that that the switch starts with small lies that are told frequently.

History may not repeat, but it does rhyme, as the expression goes. If you’ve studied past events you won’t be caught off guard, you might even be able prevent totalitarianism, war, or economic collapse. 

Almost every school system in the nation has fallen short, according to recent assessments. As a result, schools are working to get back to where they were prior to COVID. The question is, will that be enough? Test scores weren’t exactly where they should have been beforehand, either.

Tests that measure academic success might not be assessing life skills. The purpose of the education system is to prepare graduates for life, giving them the building blocks they need to be successful, and wise.