Every time I teach my interpersonal communication class, I give an introductory lecture that starts off by asking the students, "How many of you had a communication class in grade school or high school?" I usually have maybe one or two students raise their hands. Then I ask, "And what did you learn in that class?" The most common response I get is "It was in English class, and they taught us how give a speech."
Then I ask how many of them ever learned how to work through conflict with someone, construct a clear message to get their point across, read body language, or listen effectively. No hand has ever been raised in all the years I've been teaching.
When I ask them why they think our schools don't teach these things, they usually say it's because they learn it at home from their parents. But when they say that, I point out how most parents learned their communication skills from their parents, and so on and so forth. And if they learned these skills from people who weren't good communicators, then that is a problem!
I'll spare you my long lecture that I give in class, but basically the point of it is that our educational system doesn't value teaching life skills. It's assumed that that our parents and families teach us this -- either directly or indirectly. But as I said, if they weren't taught how to do it properly either, then the cycle just continues. We continue to create citizens who aren't proficient at some very basic things that you need to know to be successful -- and happier -- life.
So here are five things that I think our schools should be teaching... but they don't:
1. Communication and social skills
Well, you knew this one was coming, right?! Many kids these days are certainly lacking in their social skills. Think about this. How do you handle problems when you are angry with someone? Do you avoid it and/or withdraw? Do you view it as a competition that you have to win at all costs? Those are two of the most common ways people approach conflict. But are either of these effective? Usually not! If we all were taught to approach relationship problems with a "we" or a "team" attitude, we would all be a lot happier. So as a result, we usually end up mimicking our parents' conflict styles -- or we go the complete opposite direction. My parents were conflict avoiders. Early in my life, I was too because I thought it was normal -- that's all I knew.
I think maybe I got a lesson at some point on how to balance my checkbook -- but I can't really even remember for sure. But did you ever learn the importance of your credit score, and what it even means? Or did you learn how to invest your money? Or how to live within your means and not go into debt? What about the importance of building up a savings "nest egg" or a retirement account? I didn't learn any of that in school. I didn't even learn much of it from my parents either. All they told me was to not go into debt. That's it. I sure wish I had formal training in finances, because I'd probably be a lot more well off now!
3. How to cook, eat, and stay healthy
If you go to any public place like a mall, take a look at the people. Notice how many of them are not only overweight, but just don't look healthy. Unless you took home economics in school (which I think most schools have gotten rid of these days), or one of your parents taught you healthy eating and cooking habits, where did you learn this? Most of us probably grew up with junk food in our lunches, eating Ramen noodles, or getting fast food. Yes, ideally, parents should teach this too. But I think it would also help our society if we formally taught this to our students. Maybe we'd all be a lot healthier and our medical system would be less overwhelmed.
4. How to fix things
I'm a single mom, so if anything breaks in my house or car, guess what I do? I either call a handyman or beg a friend or family member to fix it for me. I can't tell you how many times I think, "If only I knew how to do this!" It would give me so much more independence if I knew how to fix things around the house. I suppose some of this used to be taught in shop class (although I never took one of those classes so I don't know), but then again, most schools don't even have shop anymore either.
5. How to figure out what to do with the rest of your life (and how to apply for & interview for jobs)
Most adults I know still "don't know what they want to be when they grow up" -- their life purpose. In other words, most people just sort of fell into some job or line of work because they needed to make money. But how many of them really enjoy their work and feel like they are making a difference in the world? I think our schools should expose kids to the career options more, and help guide them to find their passions. Once they do, it's also important for them to know the effective strategies of job hunting and interviewing.
Unfortunately, I don't think our school systems will ever integrate any of these topics. I know, because many years ago, I tried to get some communication programs accepted by some local schools and day cares. It was then that I realized how air-tight our schools are and that nothing new can be done anymore. So if you have kids, think about teaching them these things -- even if you have to learn them yourself first.