Have you seen this video? No matter how you feel about the details, it seems to resonate strongly with both school age kids and adults. It asks really important questions like: Why do we learn what we learn in school? Why aren’t basic skills needed to be a successful adult addressed better in our curriculum? And why are some subjects, that don’t meet this criteria, required?

Don't Stay In School by Boyinaband
Don’t Stay In School by Boyinaband

Before anyone gets upset about the title and associated hash tag, I want to clear up a common misunderstanding. The song isn’t telling students that they shouldn’t “stay in school.” Rather, as it states clearly at the end of the song, it suggests that we need to work to make sure certain subjects and content “don’t stay in school.”

You can get a good idea of what those subjects are by listening to the song, but for our purposes, let’s consider the curriculum that IS suggested by this artist. Here are some of the phrases from the song (or at least the ideas as I captured them) that suggest content missing from school curricula:

how to get a job; how to pay tax; how to vote; how to look after my health; current events; the laws for the country I live in; financial advice; human rights; trading stocks; how money works; how to budget; cost of raising a kid; what an affidavit is; basic first aid; how to recognize mental disorders and preventable diseases; how to buy a house with a  mortgage; practical medicines; about domestic abuse; about depression; how to parent; world languages; about the political system

I’d like to clean this up a bit by taking what was dispersed for artistic reasons and organizing it into subjects as a school might.

Government: how to vote, current events, the laws of the country I live in, human rights, what an affidavit is, about the political system

Finance: How to get a job, how to pay tax, financial advice, trading stocks, how money works, how to budget, how to buy a house with a mortgage,

Health: how to look after my own health, basic first aid, how to recognize mental disorders and preventable diseases, practical medicine, about depression

World Languages

Family: the cost of raising a kid, how to parent, the facts about domestic abuse

What strikes me a bout this list is the direct functional application of these subjects to being an adult. What is being suggested is that we make the core of our school curricula about what so many of our schools include in our mission statements: ensuring that our students become functioning members of society.

Now, I know there are a bunch of educators reading the lists above saying, “but we do teach these things in school!” There are social studies teachers checking off the list under Government, Health & Physical Education teachers doing the same under health, etc. But if this is true, why does this resonate so strongly?

I’d like to think about this from the perspective of a recently added graduation requirement here in Virginia: Economics and Personal Finance.

From my perspective, here’s what has happened with this course:

  • Our state legislators decided (as Boyinaband suggests it should) that there is a deficiency in teaching about economics and personal finance in our schools and adds it as a graduation requirement.
  • The new graduation requirement goes into effect with a hard deadline, and all schools around the state need to figure out how to provide this curriculum right away and who in the school will teach it.
  • To support this need, a statewide curriculum model is developed.
  • The curriculum is so prescriptive, without any consideration for local school and teacher differences that the delivery of the content becomes mechanical, including quite literally by being presented through online learning modules.

The result of this sequence of events is that the content of this course, which could have met real needs of students, has become a dry, check-the-box approach to education. Teachers are taking students through the required steps to complete the course, but with the curriculum so prescriptive, the teachers are unable, or unmotivated, to teach the content with the passion with which they would approach their preferred subjects. Any educator worth his salt knows that students don’t learn in this setting.

I’m sure there are exceptions out there, but what I describe has happened many times over. The same problem existed when I was in high school a quarter century ago. At that time, all seniors in my state were required to take a semester of government and a semester of economics. (These are called for by the song, no?!) But because the course was required and mandated from the state level, the delivery was scripted and dry and students, including myself, dreaded the class.

Perhaps the reason the message of the song resonates with so many is not that content is not addressed, but that when it was, it was so dreadful that they didn’t learn it. We can’t just check the box and say we have taught students.

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to check out some very recent posts about Don’t Stay In School including a follow up video reacting to hate comments.


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