THE BLOG
04/12/2016 05:17 pm ET Updated Apr 12, 2017

Why Don't We Teach Life Skills in our Schools?

When employers are asked about the most important factor in their decision to hire someone, almost always, communication skills are on the top of the list. Not that I'm surprised. But how many of you were actually taught to communicate effectively? Think about it. Did you ever have a class between kindergarten and high school graduation that taught you how to work through conflict? Or be a good listener? Or how to express empathy? I'm sure you didn't. Me neither.

If you're one of the lucky ones, you might get to go to college. Believe it or not, more people do not have a bachelor's degree. But if you do, you might have had a public speaking class. And maybe, just maybe, an interpersonal communication class. But that's usually where it ends.

I have been teaching communication at the university level for about two decades now. And the longer I live, the more I have to ask why it's only when a person hits college that we teach such important life skills as communication. I know I'm biased because this is my line of work, but think about this. Do you know many people with good communication skills? Are most people good listeners? Do they engage in conflict management effectively? The answers to these questions are probably "very few" and "no."

For example, many people despise conflict. They see it as a negative thing, and some people avoid it at all costs. And even if someone does engage in conflict, usually it's the "knock-down-drag-out-name-calling" kind of strategy that is used. But it doesn't have to be that way.

A much more effective way of working through conflict is by using the collaboration strategy. In this model, both parties think of themselves as a team to come up with mutually satisfying solutions. Most people usually have an "me vs. you" attitude coupled with an "I gotta win at all costs" demeanor. This just doesn't work.

Imagine if you were taught how to do it the right way - from when you were still young enough to really be able to incorporate the knowledge and skills into your life so that it became second nature to you (and all of us). I think the world would be a much more peaceful place because we would all be able to get along much better.

But it's not just about communication. There are many other life skills that I think should be taught in our educational system from kindergarten through high school. And the earlier the better, because research shows that learning a new skill is much easier the younger you are. Whether it's learning to play the guitar or speak a new language like Spanish, we wouldn't struggle later in life with how to learn the best and easiest way to learn something new. But while it's fun to play a musical instrument such as the guitar, learning a one or more new languages can be very beneficial. We live in a world that is so connected through the internet, that most of us will probably find ourselves working with people from different countries who speak a language that is not English. So why don't we incorporate some of these things into our educational system at a much younger age?

But at least we do teach languages (but usually only starting in high school). There are many other useful life skills other than communication and foreign languages that it would be useful to teach in our K-12 educational system. For example, what about financial skills? Have you ever been taught to invest your money? Or balance a budget? Save for retirement? Probably not. Me neither.

I have two kids, and so I see what they are learning in school. And don't get me wrong, it's perfectly great to learn history or calculus. But unless you're planning on becoming a history professor or an engineer, you probably won't use that knowledge very often (if ever) in your life. But how often do we communicate with people? Or deal with our money issues? Every day. Every. Single. Day. And in my opinion, considering the frequency of such activities, it makes them even more important than the subjects we currently teach but don't use in our everyday lives.

And what about cooking? Or sewing? Or building things? Or changing a tire? I know we used to have home economics classes and shop in schools, but I think that has been dwindling over the years. I know my kids have never taken any of those classes. I think it's a shame that these kinds of classes have been phased out.

I have been asking myself the "why" question for so many years. Why don't we teach these skills in our educational system? I think the answer is a complex one, but a big factor is probably because it's assumed that children will learn all of this at home. But what if your parents model terrible communication skills? Or they are living paycheck-to-paycheck always on the verge of bankruptcy? That's not a great way to learn sometimes. I think another reason we don't teach these skills is because they're "soft." In other words, "easy." But I disagree. I think soft skills are more important than most of what our children are taught.

Just think of it this way. On a job interview, they're assessing your communication skills, not asking you to solve a calculus problem or about King Henry VIII.

I think you get my point.