During the 20th Century, urban public education included the trades, such as wood shop, metal shop, auto mechanics, and fundamental subjects such as home economics as well as the arts, music and physical education programs. Unfortunately, some trade and manufacturing jobs have since been outsourced to overseas locations or to the prison population.
In the 21st Century, however, the urban public educational system focuses primarily on preparing students for two (PSSA) tests to determine reading and math competency, and the results of which are indicators of student, school and teacher success. Therefore, drill and practice of these skills are the only required instruction. All other subjects such as social studies and science are taught as fill-ins when time allows and the trades, arts, music and physical education programs are extinct to virtually nonexistent in most settings.
There are many successful individuals in this society who have never attended college. Therefore, a college education is not necessarily an answer for all students. Some students’ abilities and gifts may be in the trades or in the arts. And, while some of these fields are furthered through a college education and this is definitely not an argument against the importance of a college education or a student’s need to be competent in both reading and math, it is an argument that the urban public educational system fails to expose its students to various subjects and topics in order for them to get accepted into and/or succeed in college and/or enter into various professions in the 21st Century.
Undergraduate education requires students to complete course work requirements in the sciences such as biology, chemistry, in addition to art history, law, and the social studies. Therefore, urban public school students who have mastered both reading and math still find themselves at a disadvantage in higher educational settings, because suburban public school systems remain funded and maintain a varied curriculum and their students are, therefore, more prepared for entry into college, because they have knowledge of the basics and exposure which enable them to obtain higher scores on the SAT and have a better chance of succeeding in college and beyond.
In addition, subjects such as home economics teach students domestic skills, which are still relevant as everyone benefits from the ability to balance and juggle the demands of work, raising children and managing a household. Moreover, learning the basics of money management should be added to the coursework, as African Americans, for example, spend billions of dollars annually, yet comparatively own less real estate and/or businesses than any other race of people in this country according to statistics.
The problem of childhood obesity in this country, and especially in the urban environment, is in part due to unhealthy eating habits, easy accessibility of fast food, lack of physical education in the urban public school system, lack of recreation centers and/or the ability to play in their urban neighborhoods, because it has become a dangerous place for urban children given the increased gun violence that plague their communities. Moreover, subjects such as home economics could serve to teach urban public school students life skills and how to prepare healthy meals in order to change unhealthy eating patterns.
In conclusion, teaching to a test to demonstrate competence in reading and math as outlined in the “No Child Left Behind” Act has handicapped the urban public school system and its teachers and have left many urban public school students behind at its best, because it fails to engage them in the learning process, assist them in self discovery and/or equip them with the survival skills and exposure necessary to thrive beyond their urban environments and experiences.