What Are the Most Important Things Students Should Learn in School?

What Are the Most Important Things Students Should Learn in School?

What is the most important thing you have learned in school? How has this knowledge affected your life? How do you think it will help your success in the future?

In “The Two Codes Your Kids Need to Know,” Thomas L. Friedman writes:

A few years ago, the leaders of the College Board, the folks who administer the SAT college entrance exam, asked themselves a radical question: Of all the skills and knowledge that we test young people for that we know are correlated with success in college and in life, which is the most important? Their answer: the ability to master “two codes” — computer science and the U.S. Constitution.

Since then they’ve been adapting the SATs and the College Board’s Advanced Placement program to inspire and measure knowledge of both. Since the two people who led this move — David Coleman, president of the College Board, and Stefanie Sanford, its chief of global policy — happen to be people I’ve long enjoyed batting around ideas with, and since I thought a lot of students, parents and employers would be interested in their answer, I asked them to please show their work: “Why these two codes?”

Their short answer was that if you want to be an empowered citizen in our democracy — able to not only navigate society and its institutions but also to improve and shape them, and not just be shaped by them — you need to know how the code of the U.S. Constitution works. And if you want to be an empowered and adaptive worker or artist or writer or scientist or teacher — and be able to shape the world around you, and not just be shaped by it — you need to know how computers work and how to shape them.

With computing, the internet, big data and artificial intelligence now the essential building blocks of almost every industry, any young person who can master the principles and basic coding techniques that drive computers and other devices “will be more prepared for nearly every job,” Coleman and Sanford said in a joint statement explaining their initiative. “At the same time, the Constitution forms the foundational code that gives shape to America and defines our essential liberties — it is the indispensable guide to our lives as productive citizens.”

Students, read the entire Opinion piece, then tell us:

— In your opinion, what are the most important things students should learn in school?

— Do you agree with the leaders of the College Board, as explained by Mr. Friedman, that knowledge of coding and the U.S. Constitution are the most critical skills and knowledge young people will need to be successful in college and in life? What aspects of their argument do you find most convincing or effective? Which aspects are less so?

— How much do you know about coding and the Constitution? Does the column persuade you to pursue these subjects more fully? Why or why not?

— Does your school currently teach or emphasize these subjects?

— Mr. Friedman proposes two codes for success in college and life; are there other skills or knowledge that are equally important, in your opinion?

— What are the most important skills and knowledge you have learned in school? What class has been the most beneficial to you?

— How much is your school preparing you for your future?

— Mr. Friedman concludes his column with the following paragraphs:

Sanford grew up in Texas and was deeply affected as a kid watching video of the African-American congresswoman Barbara Jordan arguing the case against Richard Nixon in Watergate. What she remembered most, said Sanford, was how Jordan’s power “emanated from her command of the Constitution.

“Understanding how government works is the essence of power. To be a strong citizen, you need to know how the structures of our government work and how to operate within them.” Kids are getting it: An A.P. U.S. Government and Politics class at Hightstown High School in New Jersey was credited in a Senate committee report with contributing content to a bill, the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act, which was signed into law last month.

Sanford cites it as a great example of her mantra: “‘Knowledge, skills and agency’ — kids learn things, learn how to do things and then discover that they can use all that to make a difference in the world.”

How important do you think the last part of the equation is: agency? Has your school encouraged you to use your knowledge and skills to make a positive difference in the world? If yes, please explain. If no, do you think your school should?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.