Practically educated

Our daughter, Jennifer Lynn, finally got around to sending a thank you note to her aunt for the check she received as a graduation gift. It took Jennifer two tries to correctly format her aunt’s address because she didn’t know where in the address block to put the zip code.

Jennifer is the product of 12 years of public education in which she has gained the skills to be able to write a 3500 word essay for her International Baccalaureate program titled “Futurism and the Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin.”  However, when it comes to knowing how to address an envelope, she is lost.

As I’ve watched my own kids struggle with some of the basic tasks that are part of being an adult, I have come to believe that in addition to teaching college level math, history and English, schools should also teach the facts of life. I’m not talking about sex education; that’s been part of their curriculum since they were in fourth grade. I mean the facts of life such as how to write a check, how to mail a package and how to set up a basic filing system.

Whenever I read about a program designed to teach students “life skills” such as these, it seems to be targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds or at-risk students. This kind of attitude breeds elitism. Apparently, students in higher socio-economic levels are so special that they needn’t concern themselves with the more mundane tasks of life.  They can spend their school days debating philosophical differences in obscure literature and the “poor” kids can get their hands dirty with the realities of day-to-day life.

I believe that all students would benefit from learning practical, routine, administrative assistant-type skills. Just because a student has a 5.0 grade point average or isn’t struggling financially, doesn’t mean that they actually know anything.

Challenging students to study Calculus is fine but when it comes to learning information that they will actually use, they would be better off spending a little less time learning complicated equations and a little more time learning why they got charged  a $30 overdraft fee on their checking account and how to navigate their way through Wells Fargo’s phone tree.


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