Things They Don’t Teach You In School

By: Keith


Things They Don't Teach in School

My dad and I had a conversation last week about the things that we were never taught in school.  Some things in life we have to learn for ourselves.  Schooling gives us the raw material to make something of ourselves.  We learn all the core subjects like math and reading, and that’s good.  It’s up to us to put those skills to good use.  People tend to think college is a guaranteed ticket to a job and success.  If that’s the case then why do we hear so many stories of smart people who can’t find jobs.  Then there are the people who have jobs but still can’t make anything of themselves.  I know several people who have every advantage in their education.  They have gone to the best graduate schools, obtained specialized skills in their chosen field, and have been virtually handed the keys to success; all of that and yet they struggle in life.  Why is that?  While they have gone to school, and learned, they have not gleaned the necessary skills that school cannot offer.  As our kids grow up we have to guide them towards understanding of more than just academic subjects.  So many parents neglect the importance of what we call street smarts.  There is no written test for these skills; it’s sink or swim.  Teaching these kinds of smarts to kids involves exposure, not lectures.  Letting kids sit in on a negotiation, allowing them to attend funerals, and giving them the responsibility to help care for siblings are all ways to help kids with these important life lessons.


How to Make Friends


Things They Don't Teach You in SchoolI’m sorry to say that there are many people who are not good at making friends.  Oh, they think they are.  But, they’d be mistaken.  The proof of their failure comes when they see hard times and there is nobody around to help.  Making Friends is difficult because it requires years of work and time to cultivate one, and can be easily ruined by a breach of trust.  Some people can work 20 years or more on a friendship just to see it go up in smoke because they neglected it.  Making friends comes naturally for some people; but, for others, it’s hard work.  People who do not learn to make friends when they are young, when friendships don’t come with strings, will never learn to network later in life when they need professional support.  Many people confuse networking with making friends.  It’s a similar skill, but not to be confused.  Networking is people helping each other towards a common goal which is almost always a short term goal.  Networking helps us find jobs and link ourselves together within our professional fields.  Lion cubs play fight with each other as practice for hunting and defending territory.  Kids make friends as practice for future political gain in much the same way.  Friendships have no strings while networked acquaintances are nothing but strings.  Even networked relationships require sincerity and trust.  It’s important for kids to learn the art of making friends because it teaches sincerity and trust which are two skills necessary for networking.  Nobody wants to network with someone who is self centered and untrustworthy.  It would be a waste to spend time with someone like that because there is little chance that any favor will be returned.  People who cannot sincerely communicate themselves to others and build trust are all but doomed to run in circles their whole lives with no hope of forward movement.


Aging and End of Life Issues


Things They Don't Teach You in SchoolMy dad thought of this one, and I agree with him.  Nobody ever teaches us how to deal with aging.  It’s not a minor event either.  My grandma recently died, and my parents took the responsibility to care for her during her final three years.  Nobody prepared them for that.  But, in a way, they are lucky.  They got a crash course in end of life issues.  My grandpa died two years ago, and I remember thinking that he aged well and died peacefully.  Some people don’t age well.  My grandma was one of those people who did not age well.  She was constantly looking to the past and wishing she was someplace else: her childhood home, the town where she raised 5 kids, the house she bought with her husband upon retirement.  She retreated into a fantasy land of old times which leaked into her present.  She never admitted that she dyed her hair red even into her mid 80′s when it was obvious.  She insisted she was still an excellent tennis player even though she had to use a walker to get around.  She was friendly and she loved her family.  She was also unwilling to face her demise, and that robbed her of a completely full life.  I would say that her final 15 years were spent thinking about the past and not enjoying what she had.  So, why do some people age well while others do not?  I think some people see life for what it is.  They see that there is a beginning and an end and that the only control they have is to treat themselves well and leave the rest up to fate.  They are able to live for today and put the past behind them.  Aging is a tough pill to swallow.  A great many of us won’t do it well, and we’ll waste a good part of it in self-denial and pity.


Child Care


Things They Don't Teach You in ShoolNothing prepares us for having kids and knowing how to raise them.  My dad was one of 8 kids, and he is the youngest.  His older sisters and brothers got some practice in childcare.  But, he didn’t, and these days neither do the rest of us.   Kids are a blessing for those of us who want them, but nobody included an instruction manual.  I face new challenges every few months as my kids grow.  They mature faster than I can keep up with the changes.  Just when I think I’ve got something mastered and have settled into a routine, I’m thrown a knuckle ball, and I whiff.  My dad said “wait until they become teenagers.” He said it rather ominously without providing any specific warnings or advice.  It leads me to think that I’m going to have to wear a helmet.  Dealing with a family and being responsible for other people is something we are never taught in school.  But, it’s a valuable skill to have in that it teaches us to view life through the eyes of someone else.  Before kids I can remember how self-centered I was.  It wasn’t a malicious self-centeredness, and it wasn’t as if I was mean or uncaring.  It was simply that I was living my life for me.  When I got married and had kids I suddenly had to re-evaluate my role in the world.  Things changed so fast that it was hard to adjust.  Much like aging, there are people who do not adjust well.  They see a baby and they freak-out.  They become indignant that their lives don’t get to continue as usual.  They want to still do the things they used to do before kids, and marriage, even though some of those things are incompatible with having a family.  These people are unwilling to admit that life has changed for them.  Instead of taking it in stride and adapting they bitch and moan that life has treated them unfairly.  Success comes in several forms.  One sign of success is a well cultivated family.  When one member of the family doesn’t grow with the rest the family fails.  It’s something we have to learn on the go.  It’s another sink or swim situation where the consequences for failure are broken families, uneducated kids, and unhappy marriages.


Without street smarts, otherwise known as common sense, we’ll find ourselves walking uphill all our lives.  We won’t be able to adapt quickly and learn new things that nobody prepared us for when we were in school.  Caring for kids is something that I am becoming more familiar with every day.  I am an expert in as much as I knew yesterday.  But the kids continue to age and mature.  My mastery is only good in hindsight.  I am a white belt as far as today is concerned.  My black belt was yesterday.  Going through other stages in life is not different.  Our personal aging process can be a series of smooth transitions if we accept it and live for what we’ve got now.  It can also be painfully awkward and unnatural if we choose to resist.  I was not taught how to go to a funeral and deal with nursing homes and a dying family member.  When the time comes for me to have to face that hurdle I hope I will be ready.  I probably won’t be.  But, at the very least, I’ll know that I will have to learn quickly.  Making friends is a skill that comes naturally to some people.  Keeping friends though is harder than making them.  People who don’t learn to make friends, or who artificially make friends by being insincere, will never learn to network later in life.  Whatever connections they make will be, at best, weak.  Life and friendship are about give and take and sacrifice.  Aging, child care, and making friends require different kinds of sacrifice.  They require the types of sacrifice and education that can never be taught in school.

19 Responses to “Things They Don’t Teach You In School”
  1. J Cruikshank August 4, 2009 at 5:47 pm #

    Very thoughtful.

  2. Reservoir Dad August 4, 2009 at 8:45 pm #

    Nice article. Some very good points.

    Things always seem a bit easier when they are structured outside a real human and a real human’s individual experience. To me they can end up very Oprah mantra wishy-washy. Telling someone that they need to ‘ get some self esteem girl!’ seems reasonable but for some people the necessary grounding just isn’t there. I was a youth support worker for 10 years and some of the kids I worked with had such terrible, abusive childhoods with little or no family and friend support that by the time they reached their teens developing self-esteem was about as possible as growing another arm.

    On the death side of things I actually find your grandmother’s story romantic and admirable. There’s no way I’ll age gracefully – if that means sitting around and smiling dolefully at what I have. I still want to be attacking the world with a bit of a snarl for as long as possible – if that means dying my hair then so be it. And I’ve always said death will have to take me kicking and screaming. I’ll be clawing at the earth to take another breath.

    I wonder to if comparing your grandfathers experience to your grandmothers is just a way for you to voice your preference. It may just be your inclination to behave like your grandfather. I think that there’s a lot more than choice involved in how people handle circumstance – from early experience, to hormonal fluctuations, to physiological differences.

    Thanks for the thought provoking article.

  3. keith August 4, 2009 at 9:43 pm #

    Clint, I know what you’re talking about. But, like with all articles I can only cover so much. I’m well aware of the difficulties people encounter growing up, but I intentionally am not writing about the “outliers” as I don’t have the time. And what I say is still valid even for those “difficult” cases. Those people will probably be failures. It’s sad, but it’s true. They will fail because, for one reason or another, which doesn’t matter, they failed to learn these essential skills. It makes no difference their circumstances because I’m talking about the end result and consequences for not learning these skills, not how sorry I feel for them and the professional help they need. I do feel sorry for them and I know they need more than a blog to fix their problems. All my articles have a common theme. That theme is that people are different, and people need individual advice. I make no pretenses to be able to solve every problem. I don’t want to solve everyone’s problem, I want to give helpful advice that will work for most people, not all people. Most people will read what I’m saying and say “oh, gee, that sorta makes sense to me.” A minority will see it as not inclusive enough.

    I did prefer my grandfather. I preferred him for the exact reasons I stated here. I’m not projecting anything. I like people for who they are — my grandpa and I got along better because of the differences I stated. That’s honesty. My grandmother did not attack life — she lived in the past. To me that’s unhealthy. That’s the very definition of giving up and throwing in the towel. I’m not saying I didn’t love her. I’m saying she and I see life differently, and for that reason we didn’t click like me and my grandpa did. Again, honesty.

    What you say about handling circumstances is obvious. But, again, I have no desire to write a research article on hormones, physiological difference, and early experiences. I’m sure people aren’t reading my blog and waiting for a dissertation. Possibly you are though :-)

  4. Reservoir Dad August 4, 2009 at 10:29 pm #

    Hey, you’ve got to start catering for us minorities!

    Just kidding. I enjoyed the article. Just rambled on a few points that stayed with me.


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