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Old Dec 9, 2012, 07:58 AM   #1
Shaun.P
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The Most Important Subject

I am a teacher with a question for everyone in the forum (especially parents).

What do you consider to be the most important subject in High School? In other words, if your children were to leave High School with a qualification in only one subject, what would that subject be?

Please try to be specific as possible. E.g. if you think science, do you think physics, biology or chemistry?

I feel very strongly about this question, however will not disclose my answer yet as I do not want to sway the conversation one way or another.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 08:29 AM   #2
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Is it a cop out to say none of them are more important than the others?

1) English (assuming you are living in a primarily english speaking country, otherwise it'd be the language of that country) - Writing and comprehension is the key to everything. If you can read, write and understand, you can learn other subjects. Also, if you can't, your job outlook is pretty poor.

2) Math - Math is another basic. Now you may not need calculus but math applies to a lot of areas including personal finance which many people fail at. If you do poorly in math, you'd also probably do poorly in the sciences as well.

I should also say I don't have any kids
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 08:32 AM   #3
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Assume the basics are already known from elementary school (reading, writing and very basic arithmetic - times tables, add/subtract/multiply/divide).
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 08:38 AM   #4
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I guess you are a teacher so it is more of a rhetorical question, but have you seen the writing of high school students these days? It seems pretty horrid if you ask me and really lacks critical thinking skills. I had to judge some science based proposals by high school students and it was quite painful

Oh and I guess I could amend it to say "research" is the subject that should be taught and emphasized. Students should be able to find valid resources, be able to learn what valid resources consist of and be able to utilize them. If kids have some levels of writing, comprehension and are able to do proper research then they would be able to learn other subjects.

Last edited by leenak; Dec 9, 2012 at 08:46 AM.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 08:57 AM   #5
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Gym. Cause kids are too fat nowadays.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 09:10 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leenak View Post
Is it a cop out to say none of them are more important than the others?

1) English (assuming you are living in a primarily english speaking country, otherwise it'd be the language of that country) - Writing and comprehension is the key to everything. If you can read, write and understand, you can learn other subjects. Also, if you can't, your job outlook is pretty poor.

2) Math - Math is another basic. Now you may not need calculus but math applies to a lot of areas including personal finance which many people fail at. If you do poorly in math, you'd also probably do poorly in the sciences as well.

I should also say I don't have any kids
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Originally Posted by leenak View Post
I guess you are a teacher so it is more of a rhetorical question, but have you seen the writing of high school students these days? It seems pretty horrid if you ask me and really lacks critical thinking skills. I had to judge some science based proposals by high school students and it was quite painful

Oh and I guess I could amend it to say "research" is the subject that should be taught and emphasized. Students should be able to find valid resources, be able to learn what valid resources consist of and be able to utilize them. If kids have some levels of writing, comprehension and are able to do proper research then they would be able to learn other subjects.
A very strong vote for the above. Even reading some of the posts on MR reveals an appalling lack of critical reasoning skills, let alone writing skills.

If you can read and COMPREHEND, and think rationally, learning anything else becomes a matter of application.

Also, back in the day, learning to use the Library properly was essential. I guess that's not as important today.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 09:18 AM   #7
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A very strong vote for the above. Even reading some of the posts on MR reveals an appalling lack of critical reasoning skills, let alone writing skills.

If you can read and COMPREHEND, and think rationally, learning anything else becomes a matter of application.

Also, back in the day, learning to use the Library properly was essential. I guess that's not as important today.
Yeah I was going to say library science is a good one. I took that in high school but very few kids did.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 09:18 AM   #8
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Reading - the ability to communicate properly is the foundation of a successful career, relationship, etc.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 09:19 AM   #9
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I would actually say critical thinking, perhaps philosophy and arguments should be taught in high school.

The problem with many people is that they are unable to think critically. It doesn't matter how proficient you are at math or science if you aren't able to learn and understand fundamental concepts, or understand that you don't know that you don't know things.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 09:34 AM   #10
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He's right about Gym. Read "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain"

A balanced brain chemistry needs to come first. If it does everything else tends to follow nicely into place.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 09:45 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by ucfgrad93 View Post
Reading - the ability to communicate properly is the foundation of a successful career, relationship, etc.

Assume that basic reading, writing and maths is covered in elementary school (which it is).

----------

So we've had some good answers so far.

The idea of me asking this question is more aimed towards employment. Which subject is most important for securing a good job?

My vote goes for maths. It promotes problem solving, teaches one to think analytically and logically and I think the skills developed by studying maths is essentially the major skills required by potential employers.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 09:47 AM   #12
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I'd agree with English and Math. Although not much is learned in high school, some basic writing and comprehension skills are useful. A lot of kids are scared of math but it's used in many professions (whether basic or more complex skills).

Gym sounds good in theory, but doesn't actually teach you much and the fatties that don't want to be there don't participate much anyways.

However, I don't think high-school prepares students for post-secondary education anymore.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 09:55 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leenak View Post
I guess you are a teacher so it is more of a rhetorical question, but have you seen the writing of high school students these days? It seems pretty horrid if you ask me and really lacks critical thinking skills. I had to judge some science based proposals by high school students and it was quite painful

Oh and I guess I could amend it to say "research" is the subject that should be taught and emphasized. Students should be able to find valid resources, be able to learn what valid resources consist of and be able to utilize them. If kids have some levels of writing, comprehension and are able to do proper research then they would be able to learn other subjects.
Quote:
Originally Posted by leenak View Post
Is it a cop out to say none of them are more important than the others?

1) English (assuming you are living in a primarily english speaking country, otherwise it'd be the language of that country) - Writing and comprehension is the key to everything. If you can read, write and understand, you can learn other subjects. Also, if you can't, your job outlook is pretty poor.

2) Math - Math is another basic. Now you may not need calculus but math applies to a lot of areas including personal finance which many people fail at. If you do poorly in math, you'd also probably do poorly in the sciences as well.

I should also say I don't have any kids
Another strong vote for leenak's two thoughtful posts.

I worked as a teacher at university (history and politics) for twenty years. While I'm a big fan of the study of history (it teaches respect for facts, and empirical evidence, it enables the development of mental perspective, allows for the growth of skills of analytical thinking & critical analysis, as well as skills of research; above all, it teaches skills of how to write an essay - i.e. how to argue or make a case using data that you have obtained or located, or found, or unearthed, or discovered, or been directed to....), at a more basic level, without the tools of the trade, the ability to use language with sufficient confidence and ease to describe what you want to say, and to be able to make an argument or case, it is hard to do any job that requires the cultivating of a mental landscape.

When I started teaching, I felt that the 'typical' university student had the vocabulary of an average 15 year old; at a stretch (and certainly, by the time they graduated some years later), they could make the leap to describing adult concepts, but, initially, it was a bit difficult for them. There was nothing wrong with their brains. They understood perfectly well what was going on in the classroom, they just lacked the tools to sufficiently analyse, describe or debate the material under discussion. By the time they graduated, in general, they were perfectly competent, but I was surprised at how much of my time as a lecturer was spent teaching students how to write essays; I would tell them that it is not just a test of what they know about the given topic, but was a test of how they used the information that they had acquired or amassed to make an argument or case for what they wanted to say.

By the time I last darkened the door of a classroom, it had become my view that the 'typical' undergraduate had the vocabulary of a twelve to thirteen year old. Nothing wrong with that, except that they lacked the tools to deal with the material they had to explore and learn. A twelve year old's vocabulary is not sufficient to deal with adult ideas and concepts in any sort of in depth way.

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Originally Posted by Shrink View Post
A very strong vote for the above. Even reading some of the posts on MR reveals an appalling lack of critical reasoning skills, let alone writing skills.

If you can read and COMPREHEND, and think rationally, learning anything else becomes a matter of application.

Also, back in the day, learning to use the Library properly was essential. I guess that's not as important today.
Again, I agree completely with you.

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Old Dec 9, 2012, 09:56 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shaun.P View Post
I am a teacher with a question for everyone in the forum (especially parents).

What do you consider to be the most important subject in High School? In other words, if your children were to leave High School with a qualification in only one subject, what would that subject be?

Please try to be specific as possible. E.g. if you think science, do you think physics, biology or chemistry?

I feel very strongly about this question, however will not disclose my answer yet as I do not want to sway the conversation one way or another.
Egnilsh. I didn't do very well in it.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 09:59 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Shaun.P View Post
Assume that basic reading, writing and maths is covered in elementary school (which it is).

----------

So we've had some good answers so far.

The idea of me asking this question is more aimed towards employment. Which subject is most important for securing a good job?

My vote goes for maths. It promotes problem solving, teaches one to think analytically and logically and I think the skills developed by studying maths is essentially the major skills required by potential employers.
Basic numeracy is vital, and so is a system which allows kids to feel sufficiently comfortable with numbers to not be afraid of them, and yes, maths teaches logic, too, and is a core life skill, agreed.

However, I think that part of the problem with maths is that it is perceived to be so difficult that it is quite hard to attract good graduates into the field of teaching; many good maths grads go into accountancy, or become actuaries or something of the sort which commands a good salary, while many maths teachers, on the other hand, lack full qualifications to teach that subject. Another argument, if one were needed, to pay teachers well.......

However, re employment, I recall my horror at student (university level) essays which still confused 'there with their and they're', or managed to mix up 'quite and quiet'. This should have been sorted out before they left primary school - there is a reason why language has an agreed spelling, and it is not to please pedants but to allow an intended meaning or message to be clearly understood.

It also indicates (to me) that the person in question is careless of detail, and heedless of the need to be precise when expressing yourself in an official context.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 10:07 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by Scepticalscribe View Post
Basic numeracy is vital, and so is a system which allows kids to feel sufficiently comfortable with numbers to not be afraid of them, and yes, maths teaches logic, too, and is a core life skill, agreed.

However, I think that part of the problem with maths is that it is perceived to be so difficult that it is quite hard to attract good graduates into the field of teaching; many good maths grads go into accountancy, or become actuaries or something of the sort which commands a good salary, while many maths teachers, on the other hand, lack full qualifications to teach that subject. Another argument, if one were needed, to pay
In Scotland (where I reside), teachers require a degree in order to teach any subject at High School level.

For example, I teach maths and have a bachelors degree in the subject.

Is this a different situation in the US?

Even though this is the case, I don't think there is a link between how good a graduate you are in regards to how effective you can teach a subject. A guy with a PhD in maths who did a post grad in teaching (on my course) over complicated simple ideas!
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 10:10 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Shaun.P View Post
In Scotland (where I reside), teachers require a degree in order to teach any subject at High School level.

For example, I teach maths and have a bachelors degree in the subject.

Is this a different situation in the US?
I'm Irish, and in general, that is true (that one has a degree in the subject which one teaches), and it should be the case across the board. However, in practice, with maths, there is a shortage of suitable graduates, (and a lot of the really good graduates chase the money - become accountants, actuaries, or something similar, or, if researchers, may become third level teachers). Thus, people who have taken maths at first year in university (and then dropped the subject before their finals) are often allowed to teach it as a stop-gap measure, but one that can drag on for years.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 10:13 AM   #18
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I'm Irish, and in general, that is true, and it should be the case across the board. However, in practice, with maths, there is a shortage of suitable graduates, thus, people who have taken maths at first year in university (and then dropped the subject before their finals) are often allowed to teach it as a stop-gap measure, but one that can drag on for years.
I edited my above post with more information. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important to specialise in a subject at university level in order to teach it, however I don't think someone with a first class honours will teach a subject better than someone with a second class honours at high school level.

In Scotland you need to have studied a subject into your second year of university in order to teach it - so just moderately better than the Irish system.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 10:16 AM   #19
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Even though this is the case, I don't think there is a link between how good a graduate you are in regards to how effective you can teach a subject. A guy with a PhD in maths who did a post grad in teaching (on my course) over complicated simple ideas!
Oh, that is true, certainly. There are some who are superbly qualified but couldn't teach to save their lives.

However, I do think this is a problem with maths; it is perceived as difficult, so firstly, fewer take it at third level than take subjects perceived to be 'easier', and secondly, those who excel at it, end up in the classroom less often than perhaps they should.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 10:18 AM   #20
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Well if all the basics were to be taught in elementary levels, then I'd probably say foreign language.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 10:22 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Shaun.P View Post
In Scotland (where I reside), teachers require a degree in order to teach any subject at High School level.

For example, I teach maths and have a bachelors degree in the subject.

Is this a different situation in the US?

Even though this is the case, I don't think there is a link between how good a graduate you are in regards to how effective you can teach a subject. A guy with a PhD in maths who did a post grad in teaching (on my course) over complicated simple ideas!
I think it is different in the US but I don't know at what level specifically. Like my English teacher also taught Philosophy. The Economics teacher also taught English. I think in the US, the rules are quite flexible but again I'm not in teaching so I can't specifically speak about the rules.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 10:46 AM   #22
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My vote goes for maths. It promotes problem solving, teaches one to think analytically and logically and I think the skills developed by studying maths is essentially the major skills required by potential employers.
I agree that math is a major skill, but I disagree about what math teaches.

In math classes, you are taught to solve math problems. It doesn't teach you to think critically or analytically, at least on subjects outside of math.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 10:52 AM   #23
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A very strong vote for the above. Even reading some of the posts on MR reveals an appalling lack of critical reasoning skills, let alone writing skills.

If you can read and COMPREHEND, and think rationally, learning anything else becomes a matter of application.

Also, back in the day, learning to use the Library properly was essential. I guess that's not as important today.
Listen to this man; he's right on the money.

There is no single subject, and it would be a bit naive to suggest otherwise.

Learning to think and reason is key. Everything else follows from there.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 11:10 AM   #24
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Learning to think and reason is key. Everything else follows from there.
Yep, you learn how to learn. Worked for me, and I would venture to say that anyone reading this post has more of a formal education than I do.

But, if you could add a subject, I would suggest something along the lines of The Humanities, or Social Interaction.

Anything along those lines would be an improvement, IMHO.
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Old Dec 9, 2012, 11:22 AM   #25
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I agree that math is a major skill, but I disagree about what math teaches.

In math classes, you are taught to solve math problems. It doesn't teach you to think critically or analytically, at least on subjects outside of math.
Math teaches you to think critically about abstract problems. I'm rather surprised you think otherwise...
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