I've discussed this with loads of people and we all seem to agree that while learning about English, Maths or Geography is important, there are plenty of things which you actually need to know in the big wide world in order to be able to survive.

Sometimes I think that if schools actually taught stuff that kids can see will have relevence to their lives and that seem real to them, they wouldn't play truant so much and would actually see the benefit of showing up in the mornings rather than hot-footing it down to the local McDonalds / shopping centre to hang around and smoke fags / yell at old people.

It's a bit of a serious point and all, but there are things I really wish someone had bothered to point out to me while I was at school, rather than sending me home for wearing the wrong shade of navy blue or advising me to learn more about Charles V and his Dominions.

Things that I could really have done with being informed about before being left to fend for myself include:

1: Tax. It's a minefield, and you can step on the mines before you even know you're in the bloody field. The Governement is constantly charging you money for all manner of things and half the time you don't even realise you owe them money until you get a scary letter with a three-figure sum on it. Once you have paid your tax, the onus is on you to discover if you have paid too much and to go through the lengthy, complicated and demoralising process of trying to prise the money back out of the Governnement's hands.

2: Utilities. Really obvious stuff like how to set up accounts, and which providers are best - I know it doesn't take long to figure out, but surely it would be useful.

3: How to wire a plug and other basic household tasks. Do you know how many people die each year through faulty wiring? Why does no-one consider it their responsability to prepare kids for the fact that they will have to grow up and do these things for themselves one day?

4: Careers. The one thing they should definitely point out is that you better start thinking about what you want to do with your life, like now. Learning about volcanoes probably ain't gonna keep you in food and clothing for the rest of your life, unless you are actually going to become a volcanologist, but more likely you'll end up working in a bank.

Very earnest I know but I reckon teaching a few more "life skills" wouldn't go amiss.


Well, imagine my surprise, weeks after writing this, to find that a debate has ensued.

Dragoon, your response is your own personal opinion, to which you are perfectly entitled but (and I'm hypothesising here, as I don't know you) I can only imagine it has been informed by your own life experience, as mine has.

Perhaps your parents had the time, knowledge and inclination to teach you everything you needed to know, but it is naïve to assume that all children have this advantage.

At least my suggestions take into account the fact that while not all children have such parents, all are legally required to attend school.

I'd like to answer your points, which you make in a fairly sarcastic tone - assuming that I have somehow overlooked the obvious answer of asking my daddy, or reading a book on a subject to inform me.

My thoughts on Things they should teach in school were written after a discussion with my entire company. None of us, whether young, old, middle-class or wealthy could work out if we had been taxed correctly on a bonus we had earned. The question of things we felt could be included in the curriculum ensued.

I did not write this to complain about my own schooling - I am a perfectly intelligent person who has figured out most things on my own, but I was thinking of others - both people I know who are younger than myself and ask my> opinion because they haven't had as much life experience, and those I don't know. I don't like to see anyone punished because they started out at a disadvantage, and don’t see why people should be left to learn from their mistakes if it can be avoided.

I went to a very academic private school, which I could never have afforded to attend if it had not been for their scholarship scheme.
While my education there was excellent, I believe that much of what I learned came from other sources, including reading books and, shock, horror, watching TV, which despite it's perceived entertainment-only value, can be very instructive. Therefore, I feel I could have relinquished the odd hour of academic lessons in favour of life skills. This does not mean WWII should be ignored.

I too have met ignorant students – at university a girl did not know what Hiroshima was, and another had never heard of the SS. I was aghast and wondered if she had been living under a rock all her life.
You can but teach people and it is up to them to soak up the knowledge.

You say,

"every hour you dedicate to non-academic subjects like this is another hour you lose from learning."

Therefore, you believe that anything non-academic is not "learning". This is absurd. Only academia is valid?

I have known very academic people who are versed in Music, Art and other subjects but have no knowledge of popular culture and cannot relate to others - they have never learned communication skills or been left to fend for themselves in the real world - are they better people than you or I because they are so academic that they can barely exist in a contemporary setting?

I come from a single parent family, and (I know, get the violins out..!) my mother was far too busy trying to earn enough to teach me about things like the taxation system, even if she had herself understood it. Which she did not.

At 16 I got a job to help bring in money, and was taxed at emergency tax levels, as the company made an error in processing my pay - this went on for some time, and it was only by studying the taxation rules that I worked out what to do. I did this myself; I did not ask my parents, so don't patronise me. You seem to think I am a spoiled child moaning about something for no real reason. If you had parents around to teach you everything, it is you who are spoiled. Well, no that’s unfair, you are lucky.

I am not asking for everything to be taught by Big Mother, but, as you point out, the family unit has fallen apart and as adults go to classes on basic maintenance and self-assessment tax, why not cut out the middle man and inform them of a few basic things they'll need for life at a young age.

I am saying EVERYONE needs to know about tax, how to wire a plug* etc, so is it such a bad idea to teach everyone these things.

Oh, and WharfingerI know it's hard to believe but I'm not talking about computers. I was taught pointless computer skills which I did have to re-learn later, and yes it was an utter waste of time - but it seems incredible that you think a soul will be destroyed by learning about tax! In the real world you have to know about such things - it doesn't mean you can't be a creative, literary or cerebral person at the same time.

*Interestingly, it is now a legal requirement for all electrical appliance to be fitted with a plug before sale in Britain, exactly because so many unnecessary deaths and accidents occurred.

No. No no no no. Did I say no?

All of these things are examples of what should not be taught during school, because for every hour you dedicate to non-academic subjects like this is another hour you lose from learning.

Tax? Ask your parents, and find books to answer what they don't know. Utilities? What, don't your parents pay bills? Ask them, or look around - this information is available. Basic household repair? Your parents again. How To books. Go down to your local hardware store for advice. Careers? Don't know about England, but in the US a lot of high schools have guidance conselors which advise students on such things outside of the normal academic schedule. And once again, there's many other sources of information on chosing a career.

Honestly, I don't know why people are so enthused about having the government and schools teach kids everything. The way it's going we'll have babies being toilet-trained by the government one day. This is what your parents are for, your friends are for, your intellect is for. School study is for academic purposes, and after running into too many ignorant students I'm not willing to have that time given up for what should have been taught at home. You ever heard a 14 year old ask "Who won World War II?" before?

The family structure has been reduced to simply immediate relatives as it is - why do people want to change it to simply them and Big Mother?

Parents teach? Don't be ridiculous! What do you think school is for? We don't have time to teach our kids. Why else would we send them to learn from a bunch of strangers for seven hours every day (more, once you factor in homework) as soon as they're old enough to learn stuff: five (for those of your who are unaware, scientific studies show that it's impossible for anyone under five to learn anything other than how to play insipid games and watch TV all day).

Oh, and WWII was won by Switzerland. They had the fewest losses. Them and South America.

I truly wonder about this movement to practicality in schools.

In Ontario, under Mike Harris this is a crescendo. Local school boards have been deemed not to understand what children need in the world today; so the provincial bureaucracy does it now.

This bureaucracy is beginning to require children to have community service work, so they will experience the real world--the real business world I expect.

This provincial government has long been working towards partnerships with business to provide computers, etc, in the schools--and to guide the curriculum in business-friendly directions.

For a while now music, and art, have not been affordable--because of the influence of business thinking. When I was in school, these subjects were taught because of the joy in them, and because they are parts of interesting and interested citizens.

Now, in my piano school, we advertise that music develops the kind of intelligence that can program a computer--what an irony!

I have wondered why we can only get further and further into the box we are in, in the world today.

I think we should teach things that aren't practical, things that lead to whimsy, to idealism, to joy.

Education has a twin purpose. It must improve both the individual students and the society in which they will live. It is therefore my duty to point out some gaping holes in all of our basic educations'. I will also try to point out why these subjects aren’t taught.

Medicine.

I think it is acceptable to say that there aren’t enough doctors and nurses in the world without resorting to statistics. But if you insist: "By 2020, physicians are expected to retire at a rate of 22,000 a year, up from 9,000 in 2000." Doctor numbers are expected to drop off rapidly in America in the next two decades whilst the demand is expected to skyrocket. "People are waiting weeks for appointments; emergency departments have lines out the door," if that’s the case in America then we are truly screwed over here in blighty.
There is a simple solution to this double headed problem, educate children from the age of five about healthcare. I’m not saying give them a scalpel and let them hack someone up, but basic healthcare of how to look after yourself should be taught from a young age. As the student progresses more sophisticated medical practices should be taught such as anatomy and disease diagnosis.
Before going to university the pupils’ knowledge of medicine would be so advanced that medical degrees could be cut by two years. In addition we would probably see a fall in dropouts rates from medical degrees because applicants would have a good idea of the work involved before signing up.

The main problem with introducing medicine to schools is; who’s going to teach it? Hopefully all those retiring doctors would fill the teaching positions, but then how much would they get paid? Going from being a doctor to a teacher is quite a pay cut.

Law

Do you know your rights? Glad to hear it, but then you are an Everythingian, the elite of informed society. Most people do not.

Teaching young kids there basic rights will not only lead to a fairer society, but it will also lead to a more stable one. Police and magistrates could be recruited far easier if people were taught some rudimentary understanding of law from an early age. Later on formal debating could be practiced on mute points or in mock trials, this will give the students confidence in public speaking and teach them how to argue properly. Issues such as justice and morality are all intrinsic to the study of law. If done properly this could improve society so much.

Why this hasn’t been done? Can you imagine a bunch of kids running around with the power of the law in there little brains?

‘Jenkins! Detention!’
‘But Sir, that decision is incongruent with the modern concept of justice.’
‘How so Jenkins?’
‘You have no prima facie evidence against me, and you can’t establish mens rea.’
The politician who introduces this to education will condemn teachers and parents to a new dimension of hell.

Philosophy

Claiming that the advantages of studying medicine and law to both the individual and the state appear to be obvious. Philosophy might be stretching credibility a bit.
I want you to think of philosophy as a catalyst to education, it might not be practical but it makes understanding easier. It is a subject that teaches what all other subjects teach vicariously. Philosophy teaches us how to think. As well as studying biology, chemistry and physics pupils can study the philosophy of science and so rate the scientific basis of those subjects.
As well as studying English literature and modern languages the student can study the philosophy of language and learn about the limits of our abilities to communicate.
Philosophy encourages overlap between subjects. There is no area of human endeavour which is outside of its scope to influence, by including it into the educational system we can reach out to pupils who might not be interested in mainstream subjects.

As for why this hasn’t happened, I’ve no idea, I cannot see a downside to a gentle introduction to philosophy. It seems that philosophy missed the boat when English literature was being introduced to schools from university. Out of all the suggestions made here this would be the easiest to introduce.

There is a traditional feel to education and I find that unacceptable. The core subjects have remained essentially the same for hundreds of years.
The need for these subjects has been spotted but they have been fixed using patches onto other subjects. Basic healthcare is taught in Personal Social Education and home economics. Philosophy is covered in part in Religious Education at GCSE although there is now an A-level available in philosophy. Law is also available in some schools at GCSE and A-level and there is a plan to introduce citizenship classes to younger years.

The problem with teaching these subjects as a patch is that they are usually added onto a subject which is considered a ‘soft choice’. Each of these subjects deserves to be taught in its own right, and deserves to be taken seriously with a high level of attainment in each one. This piecemeal development of education is neither enjoyable nor is it informative.

I have not facetiously underemphasised the large difficulties involved in the introduction of these subjects, but the difficulties are still small enough to allow them to be implemented. We need these subjects early on in school before we can claim to have a rounded educational system.

Sources:

* http://www.dotmed.com/news/story/1912/

Update

Paraclete has some major reservations on the useful, practical and moral grounds for the introduction of medical studies to schools.

Firstly the practicality of getting enough teachers is far worse than I had stated, the teaching courses at university are already understaffed. Medicine is a way of life which requires continuous learning throughout a carrier. Doctors are already teaching doctors full time.

Secondly Biology and Chemistry are good precursors to a medical degree and are as such are prerequisite subjects for applying to do one.

Thirdly the number of doctors being trained is proportional to the amount of funding the government gives to universities. Therefore as a funding issue the money spent training children would be better used to provide more university places.

Fourthly the study of medicine is so large that shoehorning additional years in before a medical degree would have little or no effect on the time it takes to become a doctor or on the effectiveness of those doctors. Each of these subjects could be considered a degree in itself: Pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology cardiology, communication skills, ethics, sociology, psychology. Effectively A-levels are not based around learning things as broadly or deeply enough to prepare for a medical degree.

Finally, and most importantly, the emotional devastation created by forcing a child to confront morbid death is morally inexcusable.

The Debutante Takes issue with the fact that many of the subjects are partly taught in schools already; either at GCSE level and above, or as parts of other subjects. I have changed the conclusion of my write up to reflect this.

The Debutante also considers basic reading writing and mathematical skills to be of the utmost and primary importance, an opinion I wholeheartedly agree with.

Thank you for all your comments, I have received an unprecedented response from this write up.

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