My high school years were pretty disastrous – not just academically but morally and spiritually too. As I look back, I take a large part of the blame for that; I made so many wrong and foolish decisions about friends, money, relationships, media, and entertainment. I ended up leaving school one year early, and it wasn’t until my early twenties, after I was converted, that education became so important to me. A late starter, you might say.

However, I believe I can honestly say that the education system was partly to blame for my 12 year educational wilderness – with one or two exceptions, the subjects, the teachers, and the style of teaching were just so utterly boring and totally impractical.

When I look back, I can hardly believe what we wasted our time upon:

  • English books that seemed to have been chosen for maximum profanity and obscurity
  • Math teachers waffling on about weird things like sine, cos, and tan but nothing about money and personal finance
  • History courses that delved deep into a couple of insignificant events (Skara Brae anyone) but didn’t touch either of the Great Wars and gave no sense at all of an overall timeline of history.
  • Geography that studied the clouds and river bends but left us without a clue about where different countries (even our own) were located on the globe.
  • Science that was big on dry theory and tiny on the wonder of the world on the micro or macro levels.
  • Music classes where the most music we were allowed to make was with a triangle.

But what annoys me even more than what we did spend time on is what we DIDN’T spend time on. I spent thousands of hours in school and yet never learned:

Personal finance: Not even the basics of saving, mortgages, budgeting, life assurance, pensions, etc.

Time management: Not one lesson on how to plan a weekly calendar, or how to assign different work for different sized time blocks, or what times are best for what work, etc.

Organization: Filing, office management, To-do lists, and so on.

Study techniques: Not one lesson or note-taking or preparing for exams.

Public speaking: Never gave one speech in my whole school career. Never had any coaching on communication skills or making a presentation.

Reading: We were weighed down with plenty books but given no idea how to read efficiently and retentively.

Leadership: Taking initiative, delegation, mentoring, chairing meetings, were all completely untouched.

Conflict resolution: How to prevent conflicts, how to manage them, how to negotiate, how to compromise, how to confront wrong, how to reconcile? Not a clue on any of these.

Mental health: Nothing, absolutely nothing on danger signs to look out for in oneself and others, how to take preventative action, or how to recover from major crises, losses, and disappointments. I’d like to see CBT taught in every school.

Basic Housekeeping: Just the basics of how to paint, wire a plug, change a wheel, saw in a straight line, etc.

Personal Fitness: I stand in front of these machines in the gym and haven’t the first idea what to do with them. I’m still not sure I could tell you where my biceps are (or if I have any at all).

Teaching: How to teach!

When I left school, the cutting edge of technology was the Sinclair ZX81. I believe things have moved on a bit since then, making the world slightly more complicated. So today I’d also want multiple lessons on digital health.

I think things have improved somewhat in some schools over the years, but there are still huge gaps of basic practical living and vocational skills that no amount of algebra, physics, history, and psychology can make up for.

With all the inertia, vested interests, and stagnant thinking in the educational system, I know it will probably take another 40-50 years to see a more practical and useful curriculum containing some of these subjects. However, it would be great if our more passionate and innovative teachers would try to work some of these things into existing curricula.

You might end up with less people like me.

What subjects do you wish were taught at school? What subjects would you drop or reduce?

  • joanna

    I wish they hadn’t waited until high-school to take teaching languages other than English seriously. A second language is really good to have and it’s so much easier to learn one as a young child than a teen or adult.

    We were also taught way too little that was useful at school or university on how to get a job and plan our careers.

  • Linda

    As a retired public school art teacher, who retired early due to the craziness of test assessments in art and the the general chaos of the educational system, I have to say that when you start with a naturalistic worldview, nothing will work. The educational system is concerned with indoctrination, not education. The “smart” people in the colleges and government positions are concerned with concepts and changing beliefs, not the lives of students. I am crushed that I could not make a difference as I believe as Creator, God gave us art as a gift.

  • Gavin Beers

    After 14 years of School and 4 years of University no-one had ever introduced me to the great influences on Western Civilization. I had no idea about the philosophical ideas of Plato, Aristotle etc. I was not instructed in logic or rhetoric and it was not until I worked under an old school Oxford graduate in my placement year out of University, that I ever really encountered education as opposed to schooling. My Old Testament Professor was wonderful though!

  • AlanDueck

    Honestly, David. If the schools had focused on all the things that you suggest, what would have been left for parents to teach? Isn’t that where nearly all of those things have been taught and learned historically? Or is there really just no place for parents and the home as the place where, you know, kids are learn about life?

    • Dan

      Ditto that. I’m glad my parents handled that rather than my high school teachers, some of whom were questionably competent outside their own academic subjects.

  • Mary VanDoodewaard

    Reading this I am very thankful that I went to school in The Netherlands (to a christian school) where we were taught many of the things that you lacked and in great depth as well..

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  • Ladycelt

    “You might end up with less people like me.”

    Technically, that should read, “You might end up with fewer people like me”. Sorry, grammar nazi…

    If I could pick just one of the things on that list that I wish someone had effectively taught me, it would be time management. My lack in that area has dogged me my entire adult life.

  • Arthur

    I second AlanDueck. Parents, it is our responsibility. I believe school is the cause of so much illiteracy today because so many parents figure the best they can do is to send their child to the best school, and work hard at their vocation to pay for it. I had a similar school experience, and it wasn’t until years after highschool that I began to put my finger on it: Schooling rarely equals education. In the instances it does, it is despite the method, and usually because of godly, committed teachers who manage to eke an education out of a system that hampers and hinders in almost every conceivable way.

    Parents, it’s time to be parents again! If you must use a school, use it as sparingly as possible. As you can see outlined in the post above, the things that time is spent on inside of school aren’t nearly as important as what you learn outside, in the real world.

    If you need to take your child out of school for a day to teach them something really worthwhile, don’t consider it cheating your child of a portion of their education; chances are they will learn much more, remember it longer, and profit from it.

    A parent who is striving to be godly, work hard, and invest in their children and pray for them, pointing them to the Savior = the best teacher. It is not about knowledge (facts), for the a Ph. D. would be the best for them. It is about Wisdom (how to apply those facts in a godly manner).

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  • Paul Bruggink

    I assume that you would have appreciated having a teacher like the one Sidney Poitier played in the movie “To Sir, With Love”?

  • Kim

    As a former math teacher, I would like to mention that God beautifully ordered creation and math is a reflection of this. Also, think of all the modern items we would not have if people did not study and develop mathematics (for instance, this computer and platform called the internet that you are using right now). I had a teacher once who said when we asked why we had to study a certain topic, we were never going to use is (most likely), he said appreciation. Appreciation for those who would use it and the gift that would flow from their love of the subject. Some of the items you listed can be taught in a school, but I found they are best learned by doing (teaching, budgeting, exercising).

    • David Murray

      Oh dear, I should have learned from my previous life not to upset math teachers. More seriously, I agree with the appreciation point – amazement and wonder too.