I Wasn't Taught This in School

Western Tech a high school in Toronto, Ontario...
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Recently I went through my inbox looking at past issues of the newsletter I receive called Project GiftED. While I don’t always find myself in agreement with everything said in the newsletter or on the blog – mostly because the blog entries aren’t always about education – I do find myself intrigued often enough to keep subscribing. I got really interested when I came across an article that was actually written by the folks at zenhabits entitled “27 Skills Your Child Need to Know That She’s Not Getting in School.”

Recognizing full well that I completed high school over 8 years ago and then entered the Computer Systems Technology program at Fanshawe College, I asked a colleague of mine, James Costa, what he thought about the list.  His response below has been edited for brevity and clarity:

I guess what it comes down to is life skills not being taught enough in life. You’re taught mathematics, and sure, in Accounting and Introduction to Business you’re taught basic accounting principles and that sort of deal, but you’re not taught how to pay bills, how to budget, taught about credit, or RRSPs, or anything like that. You learn that on your own, unfortunately.

In the TCDSB I was taught about positivity, etc, but that was because I was fortunate to be a part of the leadership program and did keynote speeches across Ontario. Some schools budget for having keynote speakers come to their school, but it isn’t often enough, and apparently the high school I went to was special because (at the time that I was there) they had 1 speaker per month. As for practical things like housework, organization skills, etc… Only organization was taught by some teachers in the beginning of the year as brushing up on tips on how to stay on top of their work and how to use your agenda. Pretty rudimentary ideas. Social skills were taught to me through clubs and extra currirculars I was a part of, but I can’t think of a time people were taught how to mediate conversations, find middle grounds, etc etc… You would only be taught these things if you were in the Guidance department for bashing a kid’s face in.

In terms of thinking and reading, those are taught in the curriculum. Every course has some factors they take into play when marking… I could find out what all of them are but one is Thinking and Inquiry. So yes, it’s marked and graded… They more just tell you to think about things. Really, English was the best for me learning these two skills as you had to not only read samples of Shakespeare, etc, but understand them and find hidden meanings. I was also fortunate all 3 years (missing my last English credit..) to have amazing English teachers and was in gifted English. Other than that, Thinking and Inquiry is important in all of the courses, so yeah, I guess you could say they “teach” that.


I interacted with different opportunities in high school and found them rewarding – in many ways it was through these opportunities that I learned all that I have today. Ask any of my friends about any of the above topics or the ones in the article and I guarantee they MAY know about 75% of them, and even 25% of them I guarantee is only knowledge of what they are, but have no experience in any of them (whether practical or textbook).

That’s coming from someone who only very recently completed high school, so he knows far better than I do what’s being taught now in K-12 than I do. Unfortunately it doesn’t sound like much has changed. I remember hearing from friends that they were being taught how to manually calculate taxes in the General math class, while the students in the Advanced class (myself included) were being taught how to calculate sin, tangents and plenty of other formulas I haven’t seen since.

I believe that the biggest hole that needs to be addressed the from zenhabits list are the items under Financial: saving, budgeting, investing, credit, etc. These are crucial life skills, yet we’re left to ask our parents or speak to (typically) biased financial advisors who may or may not be giving you good advice. I’ve seen the cycle of people who are bad with their money passing on their life lessons to their children and, consequently, their children are just as bad – if not worse – with their money. One way to help fix that would be to teach at least basic financial skills in school. Really, truly prepare children for the world instead of simply preparing them for college or university.

Some of the items under Practical and Happiness make sense too. Again, these are usually things you end up asking your parents or friends about – some basic information and teachings around these things would be great, like why you can’t run a diesel engine all the way to empty like you can a gas engine and finding purpose in life, or a real career you enjoy, instead of simply finding a job (Walmart “lifers,” I’m looking at you).

I guess my real issue is that most schools/courses/programs don’t prepare you for life – they prepare you for more school. The usefulness of that reaches an end for many people when they’re 17 or 18 years old, and for the majority of people by the time they reach their mid-20s. From there on out you need to be prepared for life and having moved away from home at 18, moving back for 18 months when I was 20, then back out again at 21 my lessons were learned the hard way. I’m better for it now, but having a better foundation for starting out on my own would have been helpful.

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