John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


High School Re-imagined

Posted on March 28, 2014
Valedictorian's speech

I can’t say that I hated high school, but I also can’t say that I got much out of it. I had my fair share of good times, but I never quite hit my stride and nor did I learn as much about the stuff that I really liked. I spent far too much time studying stuff that I would never use and not enough time studying the stuff that I really loved.

That being said, I had a couple of really good history teachers who inspired me to learn more about history and one or two very talented English teachers that gave some inspiration to write.

Math was a complete disaster for me, and in most other subjects I was indifferent at best.

I think high school should be re-imagined to prepare students better for life lessons. I say this without having any expertise in the subject, other than having survived the experience. But this is my blog, and I blog on just about any subject that I want, and so here are my theories about how we should re-imagine it.

First, we should get away from the whole valedictorian thing. Who really cares who has the highest grades? What does it really matter if in pursuit of the highest GPA we have students who miss out on valuable life lessons?

Second, I think we should separate out certain categories of learning. Physical education is different than advanced calculus. English is different from home economics. Philosophy and ethics is different than driver’s education.

I would differentiate out certain categories of education. Physical education shouldn’t be graded on a letter scale. Either you pass it or you don’t. Same with home economics. Either you learn how to make French Toast or you don’t.

This is not meant to denigrate learning in this areas, which I think is very important. Kids need to learn how to take care of themselves, physically and practically. If a high school kid doesn’t acquire these basic skills when they graduate, society suffers.

I would throw basic finance into the mix here. How to safe for your retirement? What Social security is? How to balance your check-book? These are life skills that are vitally important to becoming a citizen.

I would also add in basic duties of a citizen. How do you vote? Who is your elected representative? How does the Congress work? Who is the President? How do you serve on a jury? What the difference between a grand jury and a petit jury? What are your rights under the Constitution?

These are basic things that every high school graduate should know. And it they don’t pass on test on these basic things, they don’t graduate. Simple as that.

Another category would be intellectual achievement, and this would be graded, because some students are more exceptional than others and having some competition is a good way to figure that out.

Everybody in high school needs a grounding in the basics. Math, science, reading, writing etc.

I also think they need a basic grounding in ethics and religious history.

The idea that the First Amendment precludes teaching the basics about our shared religious heritage is idiotic. And somewhere public education system needs to teach moral instruction. Kids need to learn the differences between right and wrong.

The harder classes should be weighted more. If you can handle the tough stuff, you should get more credit for that. This is where Latin, advanced calculus, and other subjects come in. These intellectual pursuits separate the scholars from the non-scholars.

Finally, I would create career paths within the high school. If you want a musical career, you should be given the opportunity to pursue it. Same for sports, English, History and Finance and Theater, computer science, biology, etc.

Some might say that kids are too young to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives, but I think that if kids start doing early on what they really want to do, they will have a lot more fun in school and be better learners.

Not everybody is going to play in the NBA, but if you really love sports, you will find a niche to work in that industry. If you really love music or theater, you don’t need to 23 years old to be successful. Just ask Taylor Swift.

So, to me, that is high school reimagined.

First, a basic understanding of how to survive after high school. Second, a common grounding in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, and if you are really good at that, then you get the opportunity to challenge yourselves intellectually. And finally, a chance to pursue your dreams, no matter what they are. And if not your dreams, at least a decent career that will pay you a decent buck.

At least, that’s my theory.