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5 Life Skills That We Should’ve Been Taught in High School

Student Life

Happy New Year, TTM Readers!

I know that February doesn't constitute itself as a month to send new year well wishes. However, I was on a break and needed to announce my presence, because I'm like Tinkerbell, I would die without attention. So, here I am. I'm back. Yay.

I swore I would renounce movie musicals for the foreseeable future, so today I am bringing you a different kind of hell. The one that really stays with you.

Specifically, a lamentation on how it could have been better if we valued education the way we value athletes or actors.

I mean, do we ever leave high school behind? For most of us, it is a constant companion, a flash drive of memories on loop. I have yet to meet a person who has not been traumatized by high school, and if you claim otherwise, you're in denial.

We all have strong feelings in various degrees of intensity for high school, because it's the period in our lives when our thoughts and opinions form, when we need the most support, and instead we get a splash of bullying in our faces, or inexplicably a cold shoulder from our friends, or weird texts from a creepy guy that you definitely did not give your number to, but you maybe share history class with?

No? No one? Just me? Well, okay then.

The greatest disappointment regarding high school, however, is the subject that no one really talks about — the actual school. If I had left the hell gates of Grammar School Srobarova (insert a shameless shout-out here) with a realization that the toxicity was worth it because at least I learned something there, at least I would have left with an insignificant feeling of satisfaction. But, effing no.

And Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post agreed with me back in 2012 when she wrote an article about why kids hate school in general, and why all we learn there is useless BS.

Speaking from personal experience, I've always excelled in English, Literature, Foreign Languages, History, Debate clubs and so forth, while I sucked at Science and anything that had to with calculations. So instead of nurturing my natural talent, I spent every afternoon with a tutor, trying to ace subjects I hated, and more importantly, subjects I would never actually need to use in real life.

But who knows, maybe one day my local Starbucks will make me a rad cup of coffee just for stating the Pythagorean Theorem. “Here you go, miss, here’s your latte, free of charge. Those stringent ABC 90 degree angles blew us away.”

Which brings us to the main problem of the educational system — We enter high school at a point in our lives when we are more than capable of differentiating between likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. We should be able to choose subjects and develop our passions and talents at a steady pace.

But they throw us all into the same group as if we were protagonists in some YA dystopian novel, and then we fight for our lives. However, instead of winning a prize, we get a piece of paper and a raging depression.

And if can't re-assort the system, we ought to at least teach kids stuff necessary to survive.

Here's five skills we should have learned in high school:

1. Psychology 101

You ever wonder why people act like people? Why our moods change, why we swing at our enemies and love our friends? Instead of teaching the chemical processes of Uranium, or the biological functions of a dragonfly, how about drawing at least a rough sketch of a human psyche for kids to better understand themselves and others?

It's really sad that empathy is something that has to be outlined, but we still have a better chance at grasping it if we encounter it, rather than avoiding it. There are some schools that teach psychology, or expand on it in Social Studies, but it's far from what is necessary, and those curriculums mostly focus on intelligence quotients rather than emotional intelligence.

I mean, a damn dragonfly doesn't collect my rent. Which brings me to ...

2. Financial Literacy

I'm not talking about trigonometry, math or any of that stuff. Has it ever occurred to you why you're always broke? (Or is it just me again?) I had no idea how much money leaked from my wallet monthly when I first entered the big world on my own, because no one taught me how much stuff costs and how to budget properly.

The money was just there, and I used it, and then I ended up eating Kabobs the last ten days of the month because I grew a black hole in my pockets. How awesome it would be to have a subject where they teach you the monthly cost of living in cities all around the world — in case you want to go study abroad and need to know. How to budget in those cities, where to find good deals on the internet, etc. For some reason, two of the most basic, natural things to humans are an absolute taboo talking points, one would be money and the other one ...

3. Sex Education

Similar to Psychology, some schools are more liberal and have included sex ed into their curriculums, but for most schools, it's still like the three-door horror options from the first IT movie. I've met many educators who are actually pro-sex ed, but say they can't even bring it up with the board because the PTA squashes the convo as soon as it comes up.

I also strongly believe that most resistance comes from parents, because they think it's not ethical to teach high schoolers about sex.

The thing is, it took me a lot of time to figure out there’s nothing wrong or shameful about it, because one, no one told me, two, everyone does it, three, it's especially stigmatized when you're a woman because God forbid we crave sex without being labeled as tramps, and four, as long as you go about it the right, consensual and the safe way, you'll be fine.

There’s much to discover about it, not just the physicality of the act but mainly the consequences on your mental health. Ask people you trust the most about it, it shouldn't be left undiscussed and undisclosed.

4. Art of Negotiation

Every morning I wake up with a lingering question on my mind: "How do I get what I want?"

Well, because *we live in a society*, there is a high possibility of encountering humans on your climb to the top. And if on the Mount Everest, you need a lifeline. You need to get people on your side. You would think that people are naturally annoyed by requests, but that's not quite true, at least not generally.

People can actually surprise you with a willingness to help and cooperate. After all, we crave connection. The trick is to strike the right cord. I thought that as a debut novelist, no one would read my book - who would want to support an unknown artist? Through empathetic communication and negotiation, I slowly climbed the Amazon charts and Barnes and Noble bookshelves.

We don't need to study high diplomacy to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but we could use a class dedicated to assertiveness and listening. Maybe if we did, we wouldn't end up with the conflicts we face today.

5. Languages

I know that this one is in the curriculum, but are you telling me that you graduated from high school proficient in Spanish, French, German, etc.? There is so little emphasis and effort that goes into foreign languages it's unbelievable. It comes full circle when you realize that this fifth point is also about connecting with people.

It's like high school is allergic to teaching kids how to function with other humans. And yes, English is the universal language, but news flash - the world doesn't revolve around English.

The top 3 languages that most people on the planet speak are Spanish, Russian and Mandarin - and I don't see schools tripping over themselves to give kids an actual opportunity to learn those, equipping them with native speakers and investing in the school infrastructure to expand on the international exchanges.

We are truly missing out on forming life-long friendships and growing emotionally by living in out little bubble of English-centered culture.

But alas, maybe our kids' kids will have better luck.

If you could go back to high school Drew Barrymore style, would you?

Zara Miller
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Zara Miller is a published author, writer and blogger. She is a graduate of Middlesex University London where she studied International Relations. Her debut YA novel I am Cecilia attracted the eye of prominent speaking conferences such as Career Grad Festival and Association of Writers and Writing Programs. She writes for The Teen Magazine where she handles culture and student sections and works for her publishing house as an author coach, guiding new talent towards publishing successfully.