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Students Need More Street Smarts

Graphic by McKenna '14
Graphic by McKenna ’14

Marlborough does everything in its power to supply its students with a stellar “book smart” education. But, a “street smart” education, which is just as valuable, often gets swept under the rug.

By the time you graduate from Marlborough, you can take the derivative (and the anti-derivative, thank you very much) of any function known to man. But do you know how health insurance works? You can compare and contrast the economic and political systems of the Roman and Ottoman Empires, but do you know how to pay taxes? You can give a 30-minute speech on the significance of hippo meat in Heart of Darkness while simultaneously treating an earthquake victim’s pencil-in-the-eye wound. But do you know how to change a flat tire?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (but if you tried, I’m sure you could find one on the Marlborough campus!) to explain why Marlborough focuses on “book smart” education. Marlborough is a college preparatory school, and as much as you wish they did, colleges don’t admit students based on their ability to balance a checkbook, figure out the subway or do their own laundry. Unfortunately, colleges are more interested in ascertaining whether or not you were able to memorize the layout of a plant cell and conjugate those obscure Latin verbs. This is completely ironic because in college, you won’t be able to prove your knowledge of those obscure Latin verbs unless you can properly navigate the subway to get to class.

It is easy to predict that Marlborough will always emphasize “book smart” education over “street smart” education. However, throughout my time in these hallowed halls of learning, I have come across a few courses that give you a healthy dose of “street smarts.”

1. Advanced Algebra with Financial Applications. I recently stumbled upon a meeting between a math teacher and her Financial Algebra student, and I was thoroughly impressed with and a tad bit jealous of what that class is learning. These students learn about the more practical applications of math, like credit, taxes, home expenses, insurance and investments. I overheard the student asking whether or not Justin Bieber, as a Canadian citizen with a home in the United States, has to pay taxes in both countries. I, for one, would really like to know the answer to this question.

2. Self-Defense for Women. This could possibly be the only class at Marlborough that focuses solely on “street smarts.” The basis of this class is learning how to use common sense (what a novelty!) and intuition to detect potentially dangerous situations with strangers and acquaintances.

3. Regional Studies: Modern Middle East/South Asia. This class will teach you how to discuss controversial topics in a mature and effective manner, a skill that will only help you out in the real world. It will also improve your negotiation tactics, something that will surely come in handy when you are trying to haggle for a higher salary. You will get a large helping of “book smart” history in this class, but, in the long run, that knowledge will help you gain a basic “street smart” understanding of some really important issues.

In the future, I would love to see Marlborough expand its curriculum to include a larger number of “street smart” topics, especially for seniors as they head off into the real world. But, until then, consider taking some of the courses listed above, and wherever Marlborough’s “street smart” curriculum is lacking, there’s always the Internet.