Psychology Classes Aren’t Strictly For College

 At age seventeen, I entered college already having decided on my major– psychology. How did that come to be? It certainly didn’t come from any basic familiarity with the subject in high school. It had been decided at home, as a result of  discussions about my future goals with my grandfather, with whom I had many important conversations.

woman reading newspaper

Today, psychology explicitly belongs in K-12 education settings. It belongs both as a stand alone course and integrated into other content areas. When we think of psychology, we think of mental health disorders. Psychology is much more than that. It can be an introduction into human behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and relationships. Psychology can help determine the ‘why’ of human behavior.

As a behavioral science, psychology is an important foray into SEL[Social Emotional Literacy] development, having a sense of self, and understanding others. It can help children learn how to manage and express emotions in pro-social manners, and can help acquire compassion and empathy. Psychology is at the heart of 21st Century education.

It’s not enough to tell children to be nice to others. They need to learn what nice looks and feels like. How they stand up for themselves and be nice at the same time.  Psychology provides that. Children learn how assertive differs from aggression, and when one may be appropriate. Children can understand their own developmental process. Psychology classes can be that safe space that invites conversation, and practice of adaptive behaviors through role play-experiential learning. It can potentially be the most engaging class and the best part of a student’s day. Do not be confused. Lots of learning takes place in class.

In K-12 education, high school students are exposed to psychology classes, as an elective course, not a requirement for graduation. K-8 education rarely offers psychology as an area of instruction. We want educators to integrate social-emotional skill building into lessons.  What we are actually asking of teachers is to deliver instruction in human psychology. We just aren’t labeling it as such.

Society and the and the new wave of mass violence and  interpersonal aggression, happening in all pockets of the country and abroad, provides tangible evidence that psychology should be a core content area in the general curriculum in school settings. As it stands today, high school  psychology, is the 3rd most often elected course among students. It attracts students at such numbers that perhaps education frameworks should include psychology instruction as an across majors requisite for college graduation.  

The APA’s[American Psychological Association] Center for Psychology in Schools and Education estimates there are 8,000-10,000 high school psychology teachers in the United States; and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, each year nearly 30 percent of graduating students—2 to 3 million—have earned credits in a psychology course.

children wearing white academic gown during graduation ceremony at daytime

Approximately 8,400 schools offer AP[Advanced Placement] psychology classes; and in 2016, nearly 300,000 students took the AP psychology exam, up from only 3,900 in 1992. The Medical College Admissions Test(MCAT) now includes an SBS[Social and Behavioral Science] requirement, which may attract more students to psychology before college.

APA provides curriculum supports to high school teachers in various ways. They include:

  • An annual professional development workshop for 25-30 teachers.
  • Grants to support regional teaching networks, and
  • National teaching standards, already adopted by seven states.

APA also provides materials for secondary-level teachers, including online lesson plans such as “Biological Basis for Behavior”, and an online laboratory where students can experience concepts and methods directly.

There are some challenges for K-12 education to examine closely. These include:

  1. Identifying who is to teach psychology in high school, for it bridges science and social studies,
  2. Exposing more students to psychology in high school because it is most often an elective course,
  3. Addressing what APA believes are inaccurate public perceptions of psychology, and
  4. Improving teacher preparation. This is a daunting task, since many psychology teachers have never taken a psychology course, not                 even as undergraduates.

There is a need to convey psychology as a science in order to promote its inclusion into standard curriculum, and some developmentally appropriate concepts can be introduced in K-8 education. Making psychology a mandatory course offering in secondary education should be examined. We can surely teach skills that promote well-being through psychology. Promoting national teaching standards in psychology can help ensure that all students receive basic concept knowledge prior to high school graduation.

We need to examine the assessment of content and skills learned in psychology classes. Also examine the potential to credential teachers in this subject area to ensure minimum standards of teaching quality are met. Fostering professional development of psychology teachers, promote diversity and promote online learning along with other proven effective uses of technology.

In an age where teen suicide rates are high, school shootings are too frequent, teen drug use, trauma, bullying including cyber-bullying, gang involvement, depression, and racial intolerance seems ever-present, psychology classes could be a buffer from these occurrences. At the very least, it may be less difficult to identify potential perpetrators or victims who may be at greater risk.

There are not enough guidance counselors in any one school, and presenting instruction in a classroom setting may sometimes be preventive and proactive without need for further intervention. Perhaps those students whom we deem as having learning disabilities or behavior challenges and disorders, may be better identified in a psychology class. It won’t be through group counseling, but rather group discussion that deeper insights into who students are[as unique individuals and their cultural diversity]. Their strengths and potential may be recognized–all through psychology classes at school. In fact, implicit bias may become more conscious and sufficiently managed or eliminated.

Psychology may indeed be a bridge that debunks immaculate perceptions, sparks intrinsic motivation, cultural sensitivity, equity and income and gender equality and tears down walls that divide us. We may no longer be crippled by or burdened with -isms we have constructed. As adults, we adapt and adjust to societal woes. Children may not adhere to them at all or won’t feel the need to create barriers, because they will know who they really are and learn that they are not much different from anyone else. Psychology-it got us here-now let it take our children and generations to come, into self-actualization. Consider schools as proactive environments. JUST AN IDEA.

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