Why Are We Not Taught the Things That Really Matter in Life?

My 9-year-old daughter is getting what is considered to be an excellent education.  She’s taking the usual fourth-grade subjects; language arts, math, science, social studies, technology, a second language, art, music, and physical education.

A half-century and change ago, I received much the same education (minus the technology), after which I went to college and then graduate school. This typical path was sufficient enough for me to then find a series of jobs for the next few decades.

While the American education system can be said to be well-designed from a career perspective, I believe it is vastly lacking in terms of providing the knowledge and skills that I have found to be essential in life. The older I get, the more I find myself relying on aptitudes that were never even mentioned in my quarter-century of schooling.

I’ve had to learn these on my own through trial and error, a difficult and often painful process that I fear my daughter will have to go through as well. I’m doing my best to educate her in the school of life, but I think the system should assume some of this responsibility.

While I became well-versed in things like the scientific method and postmodern theory, for example, at no point were the dynamics of success brought up. The concept of success is integral to American life, and it would have been very helpful to learn what it is and what it isn’t.

Instead, many of us have embraced the traditional narrative of success grounded in the acquisition of money, power, and fame, something that has led to great disappointment and sadness when one or more of those did not come our way in big enough quantities.

Likewise, failure of one kind or another is an everyday experience for everyone, and I surely could have used some guidance in dealing with the reality of not achieving what I have set out to do.

Key Aspects of Life Are Not Included in Education

Happiness too was not a subject offered in my curricula. The pursuit of happiness is a primary activity for many of us, and we receive little, if any, direction or support in how to realize it. Is it any wonder that the United States is currently ranked 14th among nations in happiness? (Finland is number 1.)

More broadly, no instruction was provided in how to manage one’s emotions, a glaring omission given the degree to which they determine our psychic wellbeing. Fear, anger, jealousy, and a host of other strong emotions have played a prominent role in my internal life, and some knowledge in how to navigate these choppy waters could have perhaps smoothed out my journey.

There is no shortage of key arenas of life that were not included in my education. Relationships with other people represent perhaps the most significant arena, as we are more than anything else social organisms entwined in a web of family, friends, co-workers, and strangers.

Improvising dozens of such relationships in real-time is a difficult thing, we’ve all learned, begging the question of whether some basic training in how and how not to relate to other people could have been of considerable value.

Finally, I believe that educators would do us all a great service in preparing young people for the reality of aging (and, for that matter, death). We’re all getting older all the time, but that fundamental fact of life is almost always ignored by teachers and administrators.

The physical and mental changes that come with the years can be a major challenge, I can safely tell you, especially within our youth-obsessed society.

For myself, it was a total surprise to begin to be treated as a lesser individual because I had spent more time on the planet, leading me to think that some edification in the normal and natural flow of life could be of great benefit (and lessen ageism in the process).

Let’s rethink our educational system to better prepare our children for their future lives rather than just their future jobs.

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