Real Problems People

Real Problems People: What we AREN’T Teaching in Schools

September 22nd, 2015: The day I became an adult
Now I use this term “adult” loosely – thankfully I grew up in a very supportive family who helped me financially over the years and continues to do so in some shape or form. However, for the most part, I have been on “my own” for a while now. Last week, my office had a benefits/401k company come in and discuss our options. Prior to this meeting, I kept telling myself “wow, you’re getting old here Katherine.” But when our benefits “counselors” sat me down and gave me the whole healthcare spiel, I was beyond confused and felt suddenly jarred into adulthood. I ended up calling Dad in full blown panic mode – what the hell is a mutual fund? How am I supposed to trust these suited strangers with my hard earned money? And how does this have to do with stocks? WHY am I so undereducated on this material? Why didn’t my any of my former education prepare me for this?

Don’t get me wrong. I went to an amazing school with some seriously brilliant teachers.But as society is constantly changing and developing, why isn’t the content we teach in schools changing in tandem? I mean if I had to study fucking Renassaince paintings for six months why isn’t there an option to study budgeting and compound interest? If I had to memorize the periodic table of elements and how to say “I want an avocado” in Spanish, why didn’t I ever learn about taxes, healthcare or alarming factual information like only 42% or Americans voted in the 2014 midterm elections or that 36% of Americans are not saving for retirement? Why isn’t this considered valuable topics and information to learn in our education system?

As a personal survivor of 12 years of public school, this is a list I compiled of things I wish I would have learned in school to prepare me for the “real world”…

General Economics and Taxes:
Someone once told me death and taxes are life’s only inevitabilities. Well isn’t that the truth. Admittedly taxes are an extreme blind spot for me, provoking an uncomfortable amount of negligence. When tax season rolls around, I proceed to call my friend J – “hey J it’s tax time” – give her my forms and BOOM I get a check in the mail a couple months later. I literally see my friend J as a magician – I don’t care how she did the deed but damn, that was cool and since I cannot wrap my head around the concept it must be magic. This is fucked. Taxes are extremely important to understand, and once I started actually paying attention to them I realized that I could be saving myself some money. I didn’t even know what it meant to “write something off” until I got a big girl job and had to track my expense reports. Additionally, why are we waiting until University to introduce basic economics? We should be required to understand macro and micro economics prior to being thrown in a 700 person lecture hall with little to no individual attention. Perhaps this could tie in with some of other life’s realities like the stock market, investments and money management.

Budgeting and Finances:
Sure we learn calculus and advanced trigonometry in school, but what about personal finance. At one point in my life (not long ago) I was budgeting in two ways: I either wrote everything down, tracking every dollar earned and spent, and being extremely frugal OR I said YOLO and felt like Ms. Moneybags.
There was no middle ground. I was financially illiterate.
Instead of just memorizing insanely complicated formulas, why aren’t we learning how to actually put together a budget.Rather than knowing how many apples Becky has in an hour compared to Tina if Becky picks her apples at a rate of .53 mph faster than Tina but has a handicap of 3 apples for every 1.5 apples Tina picks….shouldn’t we do real life math problems? SCREW Becky – how about we focus on REAL problems like how much money does Katherine have left after the bills, rent, fish tacos, and a trip to Cancun? This is a more realistic math problem with actually relevant and useful content.
Or perhaps a lesson applying real world math skills to split a check at a restauraunt. Splitting a check can be an absolute nightmare but it’s usually inevitable. Typical scenario is as follows: a few people have cash, some have credit cards ,and a few millenials want to pay with Venmo or Bitcoin. More than likely, some unfortunate soul will have to step up to the plate and meticulously write down who ordered which drink, who ordered that expensive entre and figure out how to split those communal French fries and appetizers that some people ate and some people didn’t…this is a royal pain in the ass. Being able to do simple math and including tax and tip would be a great lesson to teach in schools.

Resume building and Job Interviews:
From my surprisingly lucrative lemonade stands to my first job at Hollister when I was 16, I’ve always wanted to make my own money and build my resume. However, I learned a lot through my parents, not so much my schooling. My old man was nice enough to let me intern for his company, which truly shaped my strong work ethic today. I remember after a couple summer internships with him, I casually mentioned how jealous I was of my friends working at restaurants and bars, pulling in tons of cash. Like 60% more cash than me! And that I was curious to check out that industry for a bit, but then I would eventually come back to the “business” world. I’ll never forget what my Dad said- He told me he was disappointed that he gave me opportunities in the real world – opportunities that not everybody gets – and that I was just going to throw it all away. But more so than disappointed he was confused. Confused that I would work my ass off to build a resume and then just completely give it up for a larger paycheck. Because even though I LOVE MONEY, everyone has to start at the bottom and work their way up. That’s why it’s called WORK. Why aren’t we teaching kids how to build resumes in school? Why aren’t we teaching them how to prepare for a professional interview? English classes should focus on real world content, and public speaking classes should focus on real world situations. Why aren’t we instilling sales skills and a sense of entrepreneurship in our curriculums? I worked in HR for a hot minute, and I was floored on how unprepared some people were during their interviews. Do people forget that they are selling themselves and their value? This one dude came in with four buttons unbuttoned. FOUR. Bro are you serious? I can see your chest hair. You sir, are a disgrace. Another girl came in for an interview and was 32 minutes late. What? Guess what the first thing on her resume was? “EXTREMELY PROMPT” Ha! Let’s be honest here, the job market still sucks. Why aren’t we at least providing a heads up to our youth that getting and keeping a job takes a lot of work. Luckily I had help preparing for my future in this regard, but I cannot credit my schooling one bit.

Mental and physical health:
Our youth is growing up in a society where people are shooting up “safe” havens like schools, churches, and offices. Planes are flying into buildings, teenage suicide is rampant and our economy is as stable as Mel Gibson’s mood swings. Kids need to learn that how they think directly correlates to how they feel and act, and this will prepare them with the invaluable skills required to manage personal stress and anxiety. Last year, an alarming 41,149 suicides were reported. But there is only 1successful suicide for every 25 attempted suicides…meaning we’re only hearing about the surface number of people affected by depression and suicidal tendencies. We need to teach children how to cope with their feelings and how to properly express and share their thoughts, questions and concerns. We need to teach them how to actually think! When I was a kid, I was never trained to think for myself and how to connect knowledge to the real world. I was taught to memorize, regurgitate, and forget at my convenience. “Here kids – memorize A, B, and C. Then I shall quiz you on A, B, C. Then I shall grade you on A, B, C and your intelligence and aptitude will be determined based off of this grade. Cool.” NOPE. Instead, it would be far more benefitial to learn about A, B, and C and tie it to something relevant in the world. Not just to forget.
It’s also important that kids learn about nutrition and physical health. Although nutrition is an increasingly popular class in college, we should be teaching basic physical health to our youth. Rather than just teaching Billy to do at least one mile under ten minutes coupled with 25 push ups, we should be teaching Billy how exercise proves to be a great way to relieve stress and stimulate positive emotions. Instead of just studying extremities like bulimia and obesity, we should instill the reasoning behind a balanced diet and the benefits of proper nutrition.

Relationships and Sex Ed. But like REAL Sex Ed:
I remember the whole condom and banana thing, and honestly, it was the most realistic, informative “situation” we went over in my sex ed class. They say that visuals are the key to learning, and I must agree. We were taught abstinence is the only way you won’t end up pregnant or die from an STD. Alone. This=FUCKED. We should be teaching preventive measures, sexual diversity, personal boundaries, tolerance, and healthy relationships. I read a study in Huffington Post, claiming that only 22 states require sex ed lessons, with a minimal 19 of them requiring the information to be factual. That leaves a whopping 60% of American teens misinformed about sex, contraceptives, and diseases. I hear of kids as young as 14 are having sex these days…I had not even hit puberty at that time. My friend K and I were so oblivious to dudes at that age, we were either riding our badass electric scooters, dominating Mario Cart or eating endless quantities of pizza rolls – ahhh those were the days. But, from an outside perspective, it appears kids are growing up a lot faster, and becoming involved in relationships at a younger age than ever before. It is important to recognize this, and not leave “the talk” as a burden to Mom and Dad. As a kid, hearing about the details of sex from an unbiased stranger is quite more interesting and appealing than hearing it from your parents over a plate of spaghetti. Regardless, we as a society must recognize that preparing our youth to succeed is our duty, including proper, factual sexual education. Did any of you watch the sex ed movie in The Girl Next Door? Now that’s an educational movie my generation would have paid undivided attention to. Additionally, we should be aiding in building and maintaining social relationships and how to express emotion in a proper way. Like how to be a good friend, a good daughter/son, a good spouse, a good coworker, and a good person. Afterall relationships make up the foundation of every experience we endure. Because when I’m on my deathbed I guarantee I won’t be concerned with the fact that Jupiter’s core is made up of non-metal or that the surface area of an average-sized brick is 79cm squared. I will be thinking about my life and the people I love and the person I am in love with. Unless I die alone… but at least I won’t be a cat lady. I loath cats.

It seems that everything in life is preparing us for the next step. We go to Highschool to go to College. We go to College to get a career. We get a career to afford the things we want and need. But with these so called “landmark” events comes a lot of confusion and anxiety (insert super cliché example here). But why aren’t we equipping our future leaders to understand and handle some of this material, to ease the amount of uncertainty associated with growing up? Unfortunately our education systems are seemingly under-funded, our teachers are under-appreciated, and quite honestly the material is under-whelming. Our society is constantly developing and innovation is soaring to new and remarkable heights – shouldn’t we teach our kids the tools necessary to contribute to this exciting time and facilitate a smooth transition for them into adulthood? Of course it’s important to master the basics such as biology, algebra, history, etc. But if you were to compose a list of the most important subjects and concepts that you have learned that you apply in your everyday life, how closely would your list reflect our actual education system? My list is looking substantially different.

-K

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