The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

An Audacious Proposal For Our Schools

on July 1, 2017

In high school I took two years of Spanish and later, at college, two years more. I found that learning that language was easy and enjoyable. Just a few years after I graduated and became a teacher, my husband was offered a job in Puerto Rico, and we went there to live. Once there, I was offered a job teaching English in a public high school and I accepted. For a year I worked at that school, teaching English but also speaking a lot of Spanish in order to communicate with my students and other teachers. When we returned to this country two years later my Spanish was strong, and I continued to have some opportunities to use it when we visited other countries.

A few years later we began to take vacations in Mexico, and I still found it easy to talk with native speakers. As time passed, however, I rarely had the opportunity to use my second language with other people.  Still, at home by myself I would often sing  Spanish songs and recite a couple of poems in that language. Now, unfortunately, I have difficulty communicating with the two Hispanic women who clean my house once a week.

Although I don’t think I’m senile quite yet, I am living the well-known saying: “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. And that also means I’ve lost many other skills I once had.  For instance, I earned a masters degree in English and did my doctoral research in linguistics.  But by now I have forgotten the content of many of the books and poems I once loved and can no longer identify the parts of a sentence.

My purpose in recounting all this personal history was not to gain your sympathy, but to explain why I believe that the ordinary high school curriculum should be trimmed down and its requirements put more in line with the interests, abilities, and opportunities of individual students.

Much of what is now being taught might be just the thing for some students but a waste of time and effort for others—even those who earn high grades. What I’d like to see is a dramatic re-design of middle schools and high schools that would better serve all students over the long haul.

One possibility would be to change the structure of middle schools that would give students a taste of the range of future possibilities for young people, and enable them to discover their own specific needs, strengths, and interests so they can choose what is best for them to study in high school, and, perhaps, at college, too.

To be specific, I would require only math and English classes for everyone in grades 6,7, and 8, while introducing them to the range of areas for future study and possible careers through month-long introductory classes. The type of classes I’m proposing would not focus on skills and information, but instead introduce the scope of various professional fields so that students could figure out which ones were most appealing and best fit them. Based on those introductory experiences, students would select their high school classes and avoid others in the areas that did not fit them at all.  Also, if they changed their minds later, they could choose different classes.

Incidentally, I would not encourage any student right now to major in a foreign language. Jobs in that area are not as available as sometimes advertised because most people educated in foreign countries learn English, and that is the business language of today. Although taking Chinese may seem like fun, in the end American students would not use it and would most certainly “lose it.”


3 responses to “An Audacious Proposal For Our Schools

  1. Allen Koshewa says:

    Joanne, your recommendations that high school students be exposed to areas related to possible careers through month-long study is an excellent one, but that should not obviate the importance of studying another world language besides English. The fact that many educated foreigners speak English (and/or other additional languages) and most educated Americans don’t speaks to Americans’ pitiable lack of intercultural awareness. In addition, fluency in another language helps internalize understanding of linguistics. Furthermore, the increasing bilingualism of people in other countries and the use of English in business do not mean that Americans have no advantage in knowing a language such as Chinese. Living in China, I know that not only does an American with knowledge of Mandarin have many job opportunities, but also that it is increasingly difficult to get a working visa in China without being fluent in Mandarin.


  2. pauleck47 says:

    Interesting suggestions. I would also like to see a strong social studies component using the inquiry approach.


    • writerjoney says:

      It all depends on what you mean about social studies. Personally, I would like students to have a strong course on the development of the American government, including the writing of the Constitution, the Civil War and other important aspects of the development of our country. I think that the American history courses I had were mostly a waste of time: too much attention to various wars, minor events, etc.and not enough emphasis on key events and principles. P.S. We also had too much geography that emphasized people’s houses, clothing, rivers, products, etc. and never said anything about government or basic beliefs and practices.


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