One of the fatal flaws of the public education system, according to most young adults, is the lack of exposure to practical life skills. “I don’t know how to do taxes, but I sure do know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” goes the classic joke perfectly encapsulating the collective frustration and confusion among college students. Many will leave campus enriched with a deep knowledge about science, business, fine arts and numerous other fields of study, but otherwise feel completely clueless about basic practical skills that are the true heart of the adult world.
For example, it’s a tacit societal expectation of most young adults to get their driver’s license and their first car around the age they’ll be in college. However, many young car owners don’t know the mechanical fundamentals of cars, such as why oil changes need to happen at certain intervals, why tires need to be rotated or basic troubleshooting. This information is passed down from parents or between friends, but is never taught in schools. Resurrecting shop classes as a critical component of the public education system would provide accessible information for those without mechanically inclined parents and friends, or those who are just more curious about mechanical knowledge in general.
In addition to classes that help young students learn these necessary skills, one field of knowledge ignored by school systems and not often cited by students advocating for these changes is outdoor education. Some small, private schools emphasize outdoor-focused learning paired with radically alternative educational systems, such as Montessori schools, but these schools are not well known and are usually only accessible to parents who can afford to send their children to private schools.
One Montessori school in Massachusetts incorporates a program called Nature’s Classroom into their curriculum for grades four through eight. For a whole week in October, all students travel to a new camp location and spend their days hiking, playing leadership games and adventuring throughout the local woodlands. Some locations have dedicated cabins for sleeping and some, such as Camp Chewonki in Wiscasset, require students to hike in their packs and set up their own campsites.
Amidst the games and adventures, the students learn critical outdoor skills, including building shelters, plant identification and cooking outside with limited resources. Nighttime games are also part of the experience, which help students gain confidence navigating at night, and become less afraid of the dark and typical woodland sounds.
Programs like these would be a valuable asset to mainstream education, since otherwise most kids and young adults won’t get the chance to develop a toolbox of outdoor skills. In an increasingly modernized world, especially in suburbs and cities, it’s easy to lose sight of the wilderness’ prevalence in daily life. If the local power grid goes offline for an extended period of time, something as simple as properly building and maintaining a fire can provide a means for cooking and warmth. Even losing your direction on a day trip hike could require using navigation and survival skills to find help.
Not only are these skills useful for outdoor adventuring and even daily life, but they can also bolster confidence and resourcefulness in other abilities completely unrelated to the outdoors. Having the knowledge base to know how to build a shelter, fire, purify water, etc. from limited resources develops kids’ adaptivity and problem-solving skills, which is an invaluable tool for navigating the adult world inside the safety of four walls.