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Teach Me Something: Country Day Needs to Prepare Us for Life As Well As College

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By Jordann Sadler ‘18, Perspectives Editor

Learning formulas, writing essays, and preparing for the SAT and the ACT, I am in high school now. I’ve noticed something strange. On weekends, or during long breaks, or even when school is out for the summer, not once have I needed to know the quadratic formula, but I certainly needed to know how to give a good handshake before an interview. My parents shrug when I ask them when the Seven Years’ War began and ended, but they continue to pay their bills. If I ask my aunt who invented penicillin, she goes to Google or Siri then she proceeds to pay off her mortgage. I interviewed several students and teachers at CCDS—they see the same problem. There is a gap that separates this school’s curriculum from the knowledge used in the “real world.” Every single person I interviewed believed that County Day has the potential for an improvement in the curriculum which can transform us from a good school to a great school. Questions arise when addressing this topic. When going over curriculum, what would we add? What would we take away? Is it our responsibility to teach these “life lessons”? CCDS does prepare us for college, so then does that remove the need to prepare us for life? Our mission statement says, “Cincinnati Country Day School provides each student with superior preparation for college and life”—it seems we are fulfilling only half of our mission.

There’s a common saying that “the only two certainties in life are death and taxes,” and this is true. We can’t prepare or predict death, but we can prepare for the world. If I decided not to go college or just wanted a simple life, I wouldn’t know how to rent an apartment room or keep up with car payments. Students here in America are missing essential financial and social skills which could cause a struggle that most cannot get out of. Many American students, even some adults, do not know their basic liberties and rights as American citizens. The Bill of Rights, the Amendments, state and national laws, or even the Miranda warning—these are crucial as an American citizen. These laws can help the average person fight back against corruption or simply clear up misconceptions. If we are ignorant of our own rules, how are we supposed to follow them? I want to know the flag that I pledge my allegiance to.

I dare our school to teach me something. Country Day is very different from other schools that I’ve attended—the education, the passion and care for the future are significantly greater here at CCDS, than the other school’s I’ve been to. Yet, they all still have the same problem: students are being taught subjects that don’t have leverage in everyday life, but we ignore subjects that undoubtedly will play into average American life.  I love English, Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, History, and other subjects, but I always ask this question: “When in my life will I ever need to know this?” Teach me how to be self-sufficient. If one day they were to be a food shortage and/or a water shortage, teach me how to grow plants and make my own food. Teach me how to get water during a drought. Teach me how to defend myself if I’m walking alone at night. Teach me how to bandage myself if I ever get badly injured. Teach me how to cope in this world. Teach me how to cope in my own country. Death and taxes: I can never be prepared for death, but I can at least be prepared for tax season.

I’ve talked to my peers about this phenomenon and I’ve gotten a new insight on the topic of curriculum and preparedness. I asked my interviewees five broad and simple questions, the first being if they felt that young adults are prepared for the ‘real world’? Eric Fleischmann ’19 says, “No, nobody’s prepared for the ‘real world.’ Young people in general aren’t. I’ve seen both of my siblings grow up and its chaos.”

“I feel that half are and half aren’t. I took a financial literacy course and I’ve see both sides,” John Joy ’18 replied.

Grace Pettengill ’17 gave a very in depth response answering, “Yes, I do feel like CCDS has prepared me for life outside of college. During cross country season, Mr. Black likes to talk about how cross country, or just running in general, is a lifetime sport which will keep you happy and healthy. I think that important messages like these (having a healthy mind as well as a healthy lifestyle) are taught at Country Day outside of the classroom.”

When I questioned the teachers, the replies were also mixed. Mr. Greg Faulhaber, the mathematics department chair and a math teacher here at CCDS, says that “Young adults are constantly learning about the ‘real world.’ We can’t be prepared for everything, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Mr. John Christiansen, the dean of students and also a math teacher, states, “Young adults are well prepared for the real world. Students are taught all the time to critically think. So, in a way, yes. In terms of finance, in my Algebra 2 class, you get some of the finance education. I don’t know about others such as insurance.”

Mr. Nathaniel Tracey-Miller, Country Day’s Librarian, says “No. I don’t know, it’s almost impossible. But a lot of people I’ve known learned real life lessons the hard way—usually in their 20s’.”

And Mr. Peter Fossett a History teacher here at CCDS, simply replies, “There are elements in the real world that we [CCDS] don’t address.”

A common question came about in the community: where does the responsibilities of the family and the school overlap to teach young adults about certain subjects especially finance? Tyler Weingartner ’18 says it “depends on how parents teach us. Schools don’t prepare us for the ‘real world’.”

“To what extent is it the high school’s job to teach these life-skills?”, asks Mr. Fossett.

Grace Pettengill stated, “Personally, my dad has taught me some about finances at home. I think that if a Country Day student would like to learn more about finances or something along that subject, they have a number of teachers who would be more than happy to help them.”

“I learned from Mr. Tumelo, who was a math teacher here, how car loans worked,” explains Mr. Tracey-Miller, giving a prime example of Pettengill’s statement.

Yes, it is a hard subject to grasp, but then the social and financial divides that we have here in America do come into play. Indian Hill is considered as one of the more wealthier parts of Cincinnati. Many students here are fortunate to be considered upper-class or even middle-upper class. Students here may have parents who own companies, are doctors, or, in short, have well-paying jobs. It is easier to learn about finance from parents who have a good financial setting and aren’t struggling. If we take a quick drive deeper into the city, we find low-income families that receive help from government programs such as welfare, food stamps, EBT cards, and others like these. It is hard to learn from parents who need help themselves or from parents who may not know the difference between the IRA and a 401k. If you’re able to learn all about finances from your parents, then by all means, take advantage of that situation. Many families cannot teach their children all the options they have in the financial world or do not know about finance because they themselves are struggling. Maybe there should be some classes that can benefit not only the high schooler who is on his/her way to college but also the parents who are barely getting by.

Also, another topic that came to my attention when talking to my peers was that our school prepares us for college, and that it is more so the college’s responsibility to teach their students about finance. Tyler Weingartner re-iterates saying, “This school prepares you for college which prepares you for life beyond college.”

Mr. Faulhaber also backs this up: “What we do here is part of preparing for life beyond college. We prepare you for college which prepares you for life.”

Yet again, the problem of the social and financial divides here in the city come into play. My parents did not go to college and I am proud to say that I will be a first-generation student. Here at this school we are expected to go to college, so we prepare for SAT’s and have College Prep classes. But what about those who DO NOT go to college. Yes, we may gasp at this, but this is the world we live in. Not everybody goes to college, not everybody has to go to college and many people, just like my parents, were thrown into the economic world at a very early age. So, situations such as rent, budgeting, and car payments come into play depending on your situation. Whether your family lets you live with them becomes a crucial decision. Parental support itself becomes crucial: if a child gets kicked out the house, if a child has to pay for his/her own car, or even teenage pregnancy. But, as I’ve iterated many times not only in this article but in other articles too, many of us at this school are fortunate to not be placed in this situation. Most of us will go to college anyways.

Next, I asked what essential life-skill or class would the interviewee add to the school’s curriculum? The responses were, surprisingly, repetitive. 4 out of the 10 interviewees would integrate financial literacy. Mr. Tracey-Miller gives a broad answer to a broad question: “That’s exactly it,” explains the new librarian, “a life skills class.”

Mr. Christiansen was able to give new light to the topic by stating, “Before we add, we need a discussion of what to take away. We are bound by Ohio laws, so how can we identify certain components in class intentionally?”

Incorporating a subject that only a few students suggest would be difficult to accomplish. Even as more students plea for a curriculum reformation, which, in itself, is problematic, legal boundaries, traditionalist objectors, and problems of merging the new additions into the old curriculum become inevitable.

I asked my interviewees, “Why are you learning/teaching these subjects?” Many of them did not really know how to respond or simply never asked themselves why they are doing what they are doing. Corey Lancaster ’18 and Eric Fleischmann were my only interviewees who asked some form of why. Lancaster explains that “Yes. I realize we are learning to expand our brains, but I’m not sure why it helps for growth.”

“I don’t know if I question why, mostly the necessity,” explains Fleischmann, “I feel like we’re wasting time.

When I asked the teachers this question, most of them also did not know why.

Mr. Christiansen answers during the interview, “I teach math—a medium that works with kids about understanding how they are as a student. Few will use log and imaginary numbers in their everyday lives, but they will learn how to use complex topics when they are presented with material they love. That’s why I switched from being a history teacher to a math teacher.”

Teachers want to help us by furthering our education and we learn to get an education, that’s a given. When are we going take a step back and ask, why am I sitting here at this table? Why am I raising my hand in the air, taking tests, grading tests, waking up everyday, reading essays, and doing my everyday routine?

Mr. Fossett answers, “No. I came to this as a third career. I was a lawyer; into the publishing industry; then I got back into law for the publishing industry. CCDS has been the most rewarding work I’ve done. I don’t question if it’s the right thing.”

How is it that we don’t ask ourselves why we are learning or why we are teaching?

So, here’s the big question: are you satisfied with this school’s curriculum in both broad terms and in terms of preparing you for life beyond school? The responses were mixed. Many were very positive about the curriculum. As I explained earlier, many believe that they are prepared for college which, in theory, should prepare them more for life. Others believed it still needs some improvement. Lancaster states “It’s better than most schools’,” but when I asked if he was satisfied in terms of preparedness for life, he states, “No, there’s more that the school can do to prepare us for life.”

Mr. Faulhaber supports improvement: “With math, we are looking to improve to serve the needs of the student. I’m neither pleased nor disappointed.”

Mr. John Christiansen has a similar outlook. “We can’t ever be satisfied. We are always changing and adjusting. The curriculum isn’t static, so inherently, I’m not. I’m not looking on what to change but how we can change the way we teach the subjects. We have a good curriculum, but we can get better.” In terms of preparing young adults, the dean says, “We need to figure out what our priorities are. We need to know self-care skills, how to deal with stress and conflict. To put it I simple terms, you don’t have to be sick to feel better. Academically and socially, we do a good job preparing you for the next step.”

Mr. Fossett, as the teachers above described, believes that, “There’s always room for improvement. We have interesting and rigorous classes that help prepare for college. We can improve in how we teach the classes.” In preparing for life, the US Government teacher says, “currently, the school is doing better with teaching service to others, which is important outside of school.”

In conclusion, as Mr. Fossett explained, “I’m open to engage in a conversation at CCDS about it,” and that’s exactly what we need: a student to faculty discussion and, if needed, a school to Ohio conversation, which may possibly become a state to national deliberation. But, it all starts with us, the students. As Mr. Christiansen said as a response to the students, “The more questions we bring up, the more we have conversations, the more we interact, the more we have commonality. The more ownership we have, the more we care for the school. It’s a great use of the student council. Student council can work more with the faculty. The process is slow, not instantaneous.” We need classes that student need, are interested in, and some combination of the two. When both are lost, we have a group of students who wasted 4 or so years staring at a meaningless textbook. Students either fail or dropout completely or they get a stale A, a boring grade which holds no weight and no meaning. Most of us study the day before a test, cramming everything in just to pass, then we forget what we learned the next day. Why don’t we create a system that will have no need for cramming, or forced research and transform our classes into information that can be used and be remembered in our life. We need to become more vocal in what we want out of our education. We need to have conversations about changing the school system from a robot-like industry to a creative educational system that is suited to every student’s needs.

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Teach Me Something: Country Day Needs to Prepare Us for Life As Well As College