We would have a more rational distribution of school days/vacation days, with the months of December, August, and April off and individual days off in February (MLK Day? President’s Day?), May (Memorial Day), and July (July 4). Thanksgiving should be moved to the last week of October and we should have the whole week off. In addition, election “day” should become election “week” and coincide with the Thanksgiving vacation.
We would start teaching a second language in Kindergarten, if not formally then by exposing children to another language, at the school’s discretion.
We would revive the now-archaic practice of teaching elementary students Latin. Though any case-based language would do, I think (you get a double whammy this way, stealthily teaching English grammar in addition to whatever language it is). Old Norse would be a nice counter to centuries of Latin dominance. But German would do just as well.
We would add home economics back into the curriculum, in high school (if not middle school), but in the sense of personal and family finance rather than the creepy gendered version that survived into the 90s. Credit card debt, student loans, mortgages—all these types of things could be covered. And hey, I would have no problem at all with including a cooking/gardening class or two, if facilities could be made available. Why not?
We need to be teaching civics—though probably not via its own class. You could entwine the lessons through a variety of other subjects, probably to far greater effect. Obviously American history classes, but also European/world history classes, literature, and (drum roll, please) home ec. Americans are famously individualistic, but we operate in a participatory form of government and must therefore participate if we want to plan our individual lives effectively.
There’s a lot to learn, so I think we should consider lengthening the number of years kids stay in school–say five years instead of four for high school. Of course, I also think it would be beneficial to lengthen college as well. This is already happening out of necessity in many places, and given longer life spans and later ages for marriage and childbirth I don’t think we need to stick to a rigid system that pushes us into the work force at age 18 (or 22, with an immediate four-year college stint).
Similarly, I think we should encourage kids to take a year or two off before going to college. A national program of public service would be ideal—the military would be one obvious option, but there could be lots of potential programs. The question, as ever, would be how to pay for all this. But I think the state has a compelling interest in fostering an engaged, informed citizenry (see above re: participatory government), so merely saying “it’s too expensive” is a massive disservice.
Once they’re in college, kids should no longer be or treated as “kids”. But that’s a whole different post.