If you went through the U.S. public school system, at a young age, you were probably led to believe that knowing the order of the planets was rudimentary to your education. As an adult, you probably still know that Mercury comes first, then Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune (and also Pluto if you are like me and went to school back when Pluto was still a full member of the solar system and not relegated to the status of “dwarf planet”). While knowledge of the planets is certainly knowledge, it does not exactly seem fundamentally important to know.
The U.S. public school curriculum is amazing in that it exposes you to mathematical concepts, great literature, and so much science that you are likely to forget by the end of each school year. However, at the same time, there is so much else that we are just not taught in schools that is equally if not more important than the order of the planets. If I were to rethink the school system, there are certainly a few more topics of study that I would include, for example:
As a full-fledged adult, I can say firsthand that many of us (myself included at times) just do not know how to communicate well with others. Whether it is a difficult conversation, negotiation, or a presentation to a group, many of us have a hard time organizing our thoughts and conveying them in a digestible way. While, of course, in schools we get a lot of writing practice, save for one or two social studies courses, many of us do not have real practice debating or constructively problem-solving with others.
Understanding our own emotions and the emotions of others is vitally important for our personal happiness and professional development. Many of us are guilty of lashing out when we are angry and shutting down when we are sad, rather than taking a step back, recognizing our emotions and moving forward productively. Imagine a world where we all understand our emotions well and do not resort to physical violence or name-calling. I imagine that if we learned at a young age how to properly identify and work through, rather than suppress, our emotions, we would be able to have more productive conversations as adults. (More thoughts on this point here).
I bet most everyone who graduated during the Great Recession would agree that an education on personal finance would be incredibly worthwhile. When I was deciding on colleges, sadly, I was not considering the price of the schools and rather focused on the superficial elements like extra-curriculars and the location of the campus. Due to the extraordinary rise in undergraduate tuition in the past few decades, many Millennials are still struggling to pay back student loans. If Millennials and I had been better educated about personal finance would we have made different decisions about college and other major purchases? Maybe. I don’t ever remember receiving an education on personal finance. Thinking back, I only remember learning how to write a check and the difference between debit and credit in middle school. I believe that teaching teens how to budget, about loans, student debt, and even mortgages would seriously benefit them as they become old enough to take on large financial risks.
What would you do first if you walked into the kitchen and your partner was collapsed and sprawled out on the floor? Check for a pulse first? Check to see if they are breathing? Look for signs of injury? See if there is immediate danger? Call 911? Seriously, in times of absolute emergency, having some basic knowledge of what to do in a crisis will certainly pay off! Additionally, self-defense and applying basic first aid are skills that I believe should be taught more than once, as this knowledge, rather than the order of the planets, is a matter of life or death.
All and all, I believe that the general U.S. public school curriculum is good (this, of course, will vary widely across school districts). I went to a public school and have collected so much obscure knowledge that I am sure that I will dedicate a future post to all that public school has taught me. Luckily, public school education is diverse in its topics, however, a focus on a few more practical skills certainly could not hurt.