Virgin's Guide to Burning Man

A Virgin's Guide to Burning Man can be found here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Things I Wish I'd Learned in High School

When I look back on my high school education, there's not much I can think of that I learned that's really stuck with me over the years. Geometry? Pssh. Biology? Ha! History? Doubt it. Most of what I know of history I learned after high school. Pretty much only some books I read in my Literature class and the lessons on how to write essays really stuck with me.

And really, I'm not feeling like I'm missing out on too much for not remembering most of those four years because in my daily life I just don't encounter such things often.

But what I do wish is that high school had a Life Skills class. This class might be similar to Home Ec, which my school actually didn't have. But a Life Skills class would be more comprehensive; not just cooking or carrying an egg around, pretending it's an actual child. It should be a year long course, senior year, when students realize that hey, maybe this stuff could come in handy. (Yes, I know, I hear teachers and administrators grumbling "Good luck finding resources for that.")

It would include segments on:
- How to write a business letter and resume

- How to do well in a job interview, and other professional etiquette

- How to change your oil & tires, and other basic car maintenance
Because you never know when you'll actually need this kind of information. Or at least, if you'd rather not spend the dough to have someone else do it for you (because pedicures are much more fun ways to use that money).

- How to use a sewing machine
I confess. For the life of me, I cannot use a sewing machine. I can sew well by hand, but that takes forever. So I borrowed my mom's machine and I got online instructions on how to thread it and of course it was step-by-step with illustrative pictures for mounting the spool and getting the thread to the needle. But then the complex bit with the bobbin was reduced to "you just put the doohickey in and around the thingamabob, turn and pull the loop up tight and there you go!" Wait, what? The more sure I was I had finally gotten it right, the bigger disaster I created when I actually tried to use the thing. In the battle between me and the machine, the Singer won.

- How to understand credit cards, mortgages, and manage them wisely
Credit crisis. Need I say more?

- A whole month could be devoted to conflict management
In college, I took a class on conflict management and it was definitely one of the most useful classes I've ever had in my life. People don't know how to deal with conflict, and often end up exacerbating the argument when they're just trying to resolve it. Little do they realize, their own actions are what fuels the conflict more than anything else. Learning how to stand up for yourself, listen to what the other is saying, and still find ways to de-escalate a tense situation is a lesson everyone can use. Might save a marriage or two. At least, people might come to understand that everybody has a role to play in creating a conflict and that we all must own up to our own responsibility when things go wrong. Nobody is only victim, much as we might like to think so.

- How to be a good citizen
More than just understanding the process and knowing the institutions (which is what your Government class is supposed to cover), students should be taught the importance of various civic duties like voting and charity & community service, as well as how to perform such functions. But they should also learn more about other roles they can perform as a citizen, such as: buying products in a socially conscious way, engaging productively in discussions with others about politics to learn about different points of views, serving in the military, and the myriad ways they can make themselves heard (not just once every four years at the ballot box). Not saying everybody has to do all these things all the time, but students should be encouraged to engage with society in deeper and broader ways.

- How to live in a more eco-friendly way
This is a huge topic, so maybe it would work best to be directed by class interest, beyond such staples as recycling and being product conscious. But it could cover anything from energy efficiency to urban farming, all in ways that are simultaneously cost-conscious. Ultimately, people are free to choose to live life how they want to, but I do think these things are becoming a big enough fact of life that people should know at least how to go about living in a more eco-friendly way, should they decide to do so.

True, we live now in the great age of the internet, where most of this information can be found online. But who wants to learn everything the hard way? (wink) Are there any life skills you wish someone had taught you, or that you think more people need to know?


  1. I totally agree with what you are saying, but I think parents have an obligation to teach a lot of the stuff you listed. If parents were more involved in their children's lives then life skills would be an every day lesson. At least that would be a good place to start if our schools didn't have the resources to teach this stuff in a classroom setting.

  2. The conflict class should be mandatory!! I think a class promoting community is important. We've encouraged the "mean girls" culture for far too long.

    As you mentioned, I'm thinking the high school curriculum does need to offer (if not already) public health and environmental science. It certainly is going to be one of the future in-demand fields. Also, the only chance people will make changes is if they are completely informed. I mean completely. It's in our food and its in our air. More and more animals are becoming hermaphrodites etc.

    Me personally, I desperately need to relearn how to write well. I always have my sister edit my papers. She made me laugh so hard when she asked what exactly I was going to end up doing with my future college career. She said something about writing papers and I think her voice cracked with weariness.

    I promised her I would teach myself how to write.

  3. I agree. I was just mentioning to Jason the other day they should teach people about insurance somewhere down the road (auto, life etc) So many people don't know what they have until too late. Plus how the stock market works, investing money etc would be another good one to learn I think.

  4. I agree it would be best if families were totally invested in teaching these things to their kids. But far too many just aren't. Or even if they wish to, some parents aren't experienced enough to help their kids in some areas (though they might be helpful in others) and so the cycle just continues. Schools are not well equipped to handle these things...but in the absence of anything else...(and mostly I am also just spouting cuz I'm grumpy about the stupid sewing machine. Wish I'd had home ec.)

    Yeah I wouldn't mind a class on insurance and investments...what's good, what's risky. It's one thing to know the terminology, let alone be able to make wise decisions. I mean, people have whole careers learning that stuff! What's the average joe to do?

    As far as writing goes, I think the two biggest aides are: 1) reading A LOT. When you read, you internalize the language until it becomes how you speak in your own head. It becomes part of your voice. And 2) Strunk & White's Elements of Style. Best book ever. Takes two hours to read, and will solve about 90% of any writing problems.

  5. Thanks Jade! I'll check out that book.

    I just came to apologize about my environmental alert drama. It is a troubling issue, yet, I was still a little out on left field with the hermaphrodite comment. Suffices it to say, we should learn a lot more about the environmental cycles.

  6. No, no apology necessary. I knew what you were talking about with the hermaphroditic animals. I think we as a society are only now starting to awaken to the reality that we rampaged over finite resources and will soon have to pay the price for it. To the extent that we can learn how to scale ourselves back, we can rediscover how to live in ways that are healthier (for us and the planet) and ultimately more sustainable. Simple things, like growing your own herbs, not only offer a fresher, more nutrient-rich lifestyle, but are also far more cost-effective. (At least here, a handful of mint costs the same as the whole freaking plant. Might as well grow it, right?)

    And I think the biggest barrier to changing our relationship with the planet is honestly just habit. We get used to thinking about the planet, entitlement, and convenience in a certain way, and we get used to certain products and ways of doing things. It's really hard to develop new habits (even when you feel that, yeah, you probably should).

  7. I completely agree with you! Yes, in an ideal world parents would be able to teach these things to their children and do it well. The problem is that not everyone does. So what do we do for those that aren't able to get that from their parents? Or if their parents don't understand it?

    It's sad....very sad.


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