An old high school friend of mine posted this video the other day. It’s a good laugh, but overall I disagree with it. It’s like many memes you have seen posted on Facebook about the ineffectiveness of school at teaching everyday life skills that people need. My friend asks for people’s thoughts and as educator I wanted to echo mine, which is basically that just because school doesn’t teach you how to do your taxes, or how to garden, or even knowledge that is directly applicable to your current life or future life, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable. Rather than go into a lengthy discussion about how school subjects are applicable I will simply say this. First, are schools meant to teach you everyday practical skills? Should there not be a place that teaches you thinks you would likely not learn about anywhere else? Second, in addition to learning, you are also learning how to learn. A whole lot of different stuff too. And in life you have to learn a whole lot of different stuff all the time. And thirdly, another thought I like was given by a speaker talking to the students in our program when he asked a student “Is there anything that you ever learned that you didn’t use right away, but later on you found came in quite handy?”. Invariably the student said yes, and I think anybody can answer yes to that question. It’s quite possible that no knowledge is actually useless.
I think though that it is a valid question to ask. What about all this other stuff that one has to know that has nothing to do with the things you learn at school How do we acquire these skills? I was pondering the question today because those memes that say school doesn’t teach you anything useful sort of annoy me and could never really figure out why, but perhaps have hit on a couple of things. First, we should perhaps get out of this mindset that school is the only place where you can learn stuff? Most people who I know learned to be handy, learned to garden, learned sewing, etc, didn’t get it from school but got it from home. More than that if you aren’t finding school fun, then why aren’t you spending your time out of school exploring the things that interest you. You have the time. And while play is important, exploring something that you want to explore might actually feel like play. And if your parents don’t know how to do a lot of stuff, is it the schools job to fill in all the gaps in knowledge your parents don’t have? That seems like an unfair burden to place on a school system that is already playing parent in a lot of other ways for working families. But I am sure if someone is resourceful they could find someone who gardens, or someone who can show somebody how to do their taxes. Before I left home I volunteered to do the family laundry for a few months because I knew once I was living on my own I’d have to do it so I should probably learn. Again, school isn’t the only time and place for learning.
The other thing I thought about was that even though I love the “jack-of-all-trades” kind of person, the reality is that civilization trends away from such people. The birth of civilization from farming gave people who didn’t have to grow the food free time to pursue other activities and people specialized. Even in hunter-gatherer tribes there had to be some people who were faster, had better eyesight, were wiser, etc. People had specialties and civilization has allow that to simply grow over the years. We hate ironing, and a friend of ours loves to iron, and said he’d iron for us if we cooked him several days of Indian food, and we love to cook and our good at it. So specializing doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it just means that you have to be fairly competent at something. And that way through what you’re good at, you can then pay someone to do your taxes or just buy vegetables at your farmers market.
In my experience those that are good at school, can pick up other things they need to learn relatively quickly. The key is to just to learn to love learning and never stop. 🙂