Looking back on my public education, I was well prepared to take tests regurgitating random factoids, but poorly prepared to live in the real world. Now in my mid-thirties, many important lessons have been learned the hard way and at great cost.
Here are five essential life lessons I never learned in school which would have saved me a lot of trouble.
5) The Answer to “Why Do I Need to Know All This Stuff?”
It’s a question every student asks at one point or another, perhaps when learning the Pythagorean theorem or while reading about the Hundred Years’ War. Why do I need to know all of this stuff? When am I going to use calculus in my day-to-day life? What good will knowing the date of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox do me?
No one offered a satisfactory answer to this question when I was growing up. Looking back, I think it was because they may not have known the answer themselves.
For my dad, the answer was practical. “You need to know it so you can pass the test, so you can get the grade, so you can graduate and get a job.”
Teachers offered rhetoric about being a “well-rounded citizen” or hypotheticals where I might actually need to find the exact length of a hypotenuses. But their real and unspoken answer was likely, “Because I’m required to teach it.”
At some point too late to do me the most good, I realized that the reason to learn those things which may not have day-to-day practical value is because, through the learning and processing of things learned, I was developing the capacity to think. As it turns out, the capacity to think is the proper goal of formal education.
If a student can learn to think, they can start to teach themselves. Kids who learn to think become self-sufficient. And isn’t that the goal of raising them?
4) What Is Money and How to Make It
This one blows my mind. I can’t recall once being taught the first thing about money in high school. Oh, there were classes in economics. But that was all theory. There was nothing about the practical day-to-day reality of what it is like to manage personal finances.
How do I balance a check book? How does interest work? How does the stock market work? Why invest? Why save? What’s it like to buy a car or a house? None of these incredibly important topics were touched upon in my public education.
More important than any of that is an even more elementary topic. What is money? What do we mean when we talk about “earning” or “making” it? What’s the value of a dollar? How does that value change? What forces influence value?
Kids don’t need a masters course in economics or a lecture by Peter Schiff to understand the essentials of this topic. Simply conveying the idea of money as a store of value, and that value is something created through productivity, would go a long way toward setting students on the right path. Alas, these lessons simply aren’t taught.
3) The Dangers of Debt
It goes hand in hand with the last point, but deserves separate consideration due to its importance. At no point in my public education was I warned of the dangers of debt. How many students enter young adulthood viewing credit card offers as free cash?
At some point in my early twenties, I purchased a new computer for $1500. I put it on a credit card offered by the manufacturer and dutifully made my minimum monthly payments. A few years later, I began to wonder when the bill would be paid off. I checked into it and discovered, much to my shock, that I still owed the entire face value of the now obsolete computer. This in spite of having already paid that value in interest up to that point.
That was one of my object lessons about debt. It wasn’t the only lesson. The expense of those lessons probably could have paid for an associates degree.
Speaking of higher education, who’s looking out for students when it comes to that debt trap? While growing up, the message from parents and teachers is that you have to go to college if you want to amount to anything. Fueled by that notion, students have gone tens of thousands of dollars into debt pursuing degrees which haven’t earned them a dime.
2) Time Is Precious
I entered adulthood as I imagine many eighteen year olds do, with a head full of mush and delusions of grandeur. How many kids graduate high school imagining they will some day become a celebrity, write the great American screenplay, become the next pop culture icon, or at the very least “find themselves” through some memoir-worthy personal odyssey?
While pressure exists for students to pursue a college education, the other extreme seems to be a haphazard license to sow random oats. “Enjoy these years while you’re young,” some adults advise. “Have fun while you still can.”
There’s a perversity in such advice. It conveys a sense of dread about the future, as if one should put off settling down, beginning a career, and starting a family because such things are monotonous and unfulfilling. The idea that being normal and doing what’s expected is some sort of surrender or sell out leads many to squander the singular opportunity of youth.
What better time to start earning and saving than when you’re young and have decades of productivity ahead of you? What better time to have children than when you’re vibrant and can keep up with them? Why wait to get married in hopes of finding “something better”?
Far too many people nowadays look at youth as something to be enjoyed and age as something to evade. They’ve got it all backwards. Youth is a field into which future enjoyment is sown. If you waste youth, you miss out on opportunity. Movies and books emphasize the stuff that happens between high school and a climactic wedding day. But real life begins after those credits roll.
1.) The Personal and Social Value of Family
Somewhere along the line, the cultivation of family stopped being a value that students were encouraged to pursue. For young girls, the notion of becoming a housewife has become all but archaic. If you go straight from school to getting married and mothering children without first cultivating a self-focused career, you’re an insult to the advancement of womanhood. So the culture says.
It’s a damn shame, because the cultivation of family is perhaps the most rewarding of human endeavors. That’s not a point just for girls either. Boys should be learning the value of family as well. It’s tough in an age where marriages collapse left and right. Kids see their parents misery and aim to avoid it.
There’s a reason these lessons are not taught in public schools. The public school system isn’t designed to prepare students for real life. It’s designed to produce “good citizens” who parrot politically correct responses. The only hope of students being properly taught in public school is after reforms introducing market incentives. Until then, these lessons need to be taught at home, or at a private school, or both.