When I was a kid, I loved school. I thought it was an absolutely excellent way to spend my time. (Full disclosure — I had a little trouble as a teenager when sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll swept the neighbourhood, but for the most part, I was the guy teachers loved.) I pursued knowledge for its own sake. I was interested in everything from Pythagoras and that theory I don’t remember to who did what to who (whom?) in the War of the Roses. Like some cloistered monk, I devoured the ancient scrolls of my people, and for twelve wonderful years, I was a happy camper. Then I left home and went to university.
Within a week, I discovered just how stupid I really was. Yeah, yeah, yeah — my parents had taught me the basics: I wasn’t going to starve to death or give all my money to a Nigerian prince. But there are tons of things in life everybody should know — and solving quadratic equations isn’t one of them. Here are a few things they should actually teach you in school.
Income Tax — Everybody pays income tax; it’s totally important. People go to jail if they mess it up. Plus, it’s one of the most complicated things in the universe. For example, I know for a fact most NASA scientists don’t do their own income tax. There should be a class (every year) dedicated to filling out your income tax, and it should be mandatory. When I was in school, we spent more time trying to figure out what Jane Austen was doing with Mr. Darcy than we did income tax.
Negotiation — Nothing happens in this life without negotiation — nothing! Yet the closest most schools get to teaching negotiation skills is the Debating Club — made up of kids who aren’t nerdy enough to get into the U.N. Club.
Communication — The simple art of making sense. Teach that and most of us could at least get decent answers to our questions.
Time Management — This is one of those skills you’re supposed to learn in school by — I don’t know — osmosis, I guess. It’s not as if anybody explains how to do it. They just assign homework, a couple of essays, a term project and expect you figure it out for yourself. Clearly, this method doesn’t work — or there wouldn’t be any need the famous “last minute” we’re all so fond of.
Shopping — There is a huge difference between paying too much for something and getting a shoddy product for half the price. Schools should stop worrying about the guy who had a dollar and bought 18 oranges for 6 cents apiece and then sold 3 of them for 9 cents, 2 of them for 11 cents and 1 more for 7 cents. Nobody cares how much money or how many oranges he has left. We have telephones that can figure that out. What people need to learn is how to find a good orange at a decent price.
And finally, in the same vein:
How to find a good doctor, dentist, lawyer, plumber, accountant, car mechanic, etc.
Eventually, everybody needs professional help, but good luck trying to find it without getting totally screwed. There should be a class (or even a semester) on how to tell the shysters from the swindlers, why you should never trust the person with the lowest price and what to do when you discover the $200.00-an-hour “certified” mechanic working on your car is the same kid who delivered your pizza last night.