I spent 10-14 hours a day, five day a week, for nine months of the year, at my high school. Between classes, clubs, and sports, I spent most of my waking hours in that building. Throw in time spent with my friends, and my house felt more like a hotel that I used to shower, grab food, and crash, than my home. So what did I learn during those four years which actually helped me in life? Not a whole lot. Mostly, I learned a lot of bullshit about raising my hand to ask permission for exiting and some random science facts.
I memorized the Periodic Table. So what? Even before the internet, permanent knowledge of the earth’s elements are relevant only to a few kids who become scientists. I call bullshit! I also learned a shit ton of earth science. From rock types to tectonic plates, I learned that shifts cause earthquakes. That’s all you need to know. You’re welcome. I also learned about chloroplast but never once watched my plants photosynthesize. Has anyone?
Most of my indelible high school knowledge comes from gym class. Now called P.E., today’s kids do a lot of the same things I did 30 years ago. If I’m ever in a jungle being chased by a wild boar and there’s a rope hanging from a tree with a bottom knot, seventeen-year-old me can climb it. Good to know! I can also dodge several balls flying at me at once, but I can’t throw a ball and knock someone down. Maybe dodgeball subliminally prepared me for motherhood. I could only limbo a low bar because I’m barely 5’1″ and am close to the ground anyway. I’ve never once used my square dancing skills in the workplace or in my personal life.
While I learned that my shoulders are provocative and I needed to measure miniskirts with the two-finger rule, I didn’t learn about having a positive body image. I didn’t learn how to handle catcalls or that catcalling wasn’t okay. I didn’t learn it because it was accepted as “normal.” I wish I learned how to read nutrition labels and alcohol content. I did learn not to drink and drive both in class and in reality when a classmate was killed by a drunk driver.
Although the school provided grief counseling during the horrible aftermath of such tragedy, the counseling was brief and focused solely on the incident rather than how to cope with grief. Since one of the only things we can count on in life is that everyone dies, it’d be really helpful to learn coping skills so that we don’t spiral into a deep depression when losing a loved one. It’d also be useful to know how to help our neighbors when they’re suffering.
I didn’t learn how to get a job. Resume writing and interview skills should be mandatory classes. We should also learn how to negotiate for a raise in salary and in position. Negotiating doesn’t just happen when buying a car, but in all areas of life. High school teaches us to be complacent employees, not boss bitch entrepreneurs. I’d like to see lessons in both areas and in the value of networking. Students should also learn public speaking and how to effectively communicate in order to articulate their needs and resolve conflicts.
I didn’t learn how to manage stress. I’m so glad that mental health issues are now addressed in high school, but we still have a long way to go. High schools offer many extracurricular activities, but few or no classes about the need to decompress, relax, and destress. The emphasis was on “more is better,” rather than, “less is more.” Adults are literally breaking down because we were never taught how to destress.
High schools need to teach students about how to spot red flags and what to do if they’re in an abusive relationship. Some schools teach about physically abusive relationships, but rarely is emotional abuse discussed. Dating doesn’t begin with physical abuse, or you’d never continue dating. Abuse comes after the abuser gains control over the victim. Abuse doesn’t only occur in romantic relationships, but happens at work and in “friendships” too.
Before you say, “it’s a parent’s job to teach these life skills,” please know that most adults have experienced emotional abuse in one form or another. We don’t have the tools to teach our children about gaslighting, projecting, triagulation, and other mindfucks utilized by abusers. We can barely articulate what happened to us and can spend years trying to resolve trauma. In that vein, self defense should also be a mandatory PE class. It’s way more useful than learning to unicycle.
With regard to finances, I learned diddly shit. Today’s students can learn about budgeting in ELECTIVE classes. We need mandatory courses about saving, investing, and budgeting. Raise your hand if you know how the stock market works? Compound interest? Inflation? Kids should learn basics about filing taxes and avoiding scams. While we’re at it, students should learn about insurance: what it is and why they need it. Think about it, we’re not preparing kids for life, but rather throwing random information at them. I’m not saying all information learned is worthless, but in the age of the internet, random facts can easily be researched and how life works cannot.
Classes about credit card and student loan debt should be mandatory as well as how to decipher your FICO score. Also, how do mortgages work? Rentals? Is home ownership really better? I don’t have a freaking clue! Most kids don’t know that they have to pay for utilities, let alone how complex financial transactions work. While we’re at it, kids should learn how to fix basic shit or at least know who to call if a problem arises. Who knew toilets have a water shutoff valve? I didn’t until after a flood from an overflow. I was also shocked, SHOCKED, to learn how expensive car ownership is. I thought that you bought a car, gassed up and were good to go. Insurance, registration, inspection, plates, and oil changes should be common knowledge.
Kids should also learn about basic nutrition beyond biology class. How to read nutrition labels and alcohol content are invaluable skills. Learning about the importance of exercise, diet, sleep, and body positivity are essential in my opinion. We all need to eat. Basic cooking and laundry skills would also be helpful. Our children need to learn how to compromise and be flexible. As technological advancements are being created at lightning speed, it’s likely that many existing jobs will no longer exist and young adults will need to utilize their skills in order to adapt to changing careers. Learning about time management and executive functioning skills provide essential tools for kids. Schools currently teach about having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset and that’s a strong start in this area.
In the 21st century, learning what NOT to post on social media is paramount. Photos of underaged drinking can be used by police as evidence of a crime. That’s some serious shit! Sexting between minors constitutes child pornography. Did you know that? I sure as hell didn’t, until some 11th grade girls at my child’s high school got into trouble for sending pics to boys. The boys were in trouble for storing the photos on their phones. There were phone confiscations, suspensions, and police involvement. Even boys who weren’t actively part of the game, but received photos were in serious trouble.
I learned that if you receive an unsolicited photo, you’re supposed to text back “Stop! Do not send me stuff like this.” Then you must delete it from your phone….in all areas, secret photo stash included. How can our children understand they’re breaking the law if they don’t even know what the law says? Parents are clueless because when we took illicit pictures as teens, we had to go the the local photo hut to get them developed. I don’t know about you, but some of my pictures were always deemed “undevelopable.” Even if they were developed, the worst that would happen is the entire school would see them, not the entire world.
Now, everyone can see you flashing each other. Yes, even if your account is private, people can still access your photos. You can easily be blackmailed. Potential employers and colleges often check students’ social media accounts to see what type of kids they are. THIS needs to be taught in school in order to protect our kids. Clearly, the schools set up over a century ago didn’t face these obstacles. It’s an antiquated system which needs a serious overhaul.
While I no longer play capture the flag and can’t identify a rhombus if my life depended on it, I do pay taxes, have a job, and negotiate in all areas of my life. We need to create a school system which addresses 21st century issues and can help our kids get ready for the world after high school graduation.