The School of Life

Posted by Judy Johnson On Sunday, 22 May 2011 17:37
I was one of the hard workers at school. I was in top set for everything, I didn’t get anything below an A for any of my GCSEs, and I always got my homework in on time. Great, you might think. I must be really smart thanks to all those years of learning. Hey, I even have a degree – I must be super clever, right?

Well, wrong. I don’t feel smart. Because no matter what grades you get at school, they neglect to teach you about the fundamental things you will have to deal with in later life. In school we are repeatedly taught about osmosis. Henry VIII. Trigonometry. Now I don’t know about you, but I haven’t needed to work out the lengths of the sides of triangles since, ooh, year eleven, and while Henry VIII had a fascinating life that I’m sure could inspire a great horror movie, he has not helped me to understand how the country works and how to be a grown up. So, if the government happens to be reading – can you add these to the curriculum, please? It’s too late for me, but let’s give the kids a head start.

1.    Tax
The inspiration for this post and the most mind-numbingly painful task you will ever have to endure is completing a self assessment tax return. Oh. My. God. The deadline may be January 31st, but I only got mine sorted a few months later thanks to a system that makes no sense, appalling customer service and a complete lack of help available. After spending hours, and I mean hours, on the phone to people who should not be working for HMRC if their advice to me to pay two grand more than I owed ‘or else they’ll fine you’ is anything to go by, I eventually got through to someone who knew their job and told me what I needed to do in two seconds flat. Now, if school included a few lessons explaining how the tax system worked, I would not have a massive phone bill and raised blood pressure, and the tax office would have had their money much sooner. Smiles through gritted teeth all round.

2.    Politics
I used to be one of those people who thought, ‘I don’t do politics’. To me, it was boring, not relevant and far too complicated to understand. Then I grew up a little, went to uni and started to learn the basics about elections, parties and the way the media works to support them, and suddenly it became relevant. I also developed opinions of my own and left my conservative hometown behind. Don’t get me wrong, I still find it a little yawn-worthy and don’t know as much as I probably should – but I wish I knew more and that I’d been taught about how our country politically ticks along back in school. Even an explanation of how the voting system works would have been handy…

3.    Banking and money
Surely, surely this is something that they could squeeze into the curriculum. They could teach it in Maths along with Pythagoras and standard deviation. Just a few lessons on credit ratings, how to get a mortgage, pensions… money makes the world go round but no one tells you this stuff. A friend of mine is about to buy her first house and has been relaying the complicated saga of getting a mortgage, and I feel incredibly stupid just hearing about it – so I suppose it’s a good thing that I’ll probably never be able to get on the property ladder. But still, I’d like to know how it all works. I like learning.

I could go on – useful skills such as basic mechanics (my first car broke down a lot), IT (now that we live online) and maybe even a bit of plumbing (my boiler exploded a bit) would be more useful than learning about photosynthesis and sketching the physical changes to a potato when it’s kept in the dark (seriously, did I go to a stupid school?).  Plus, it would make the homework a lot more interesting. ‘Daddy, where are the keys to the car…?’

(And yes. That's me throwing my hat in the air.)

1 Response to " The School of Life "

  1. Alfonso Said,

    All very true. Life > institutions.

    The problem is everybody has a slightly different version of things they wished school had taught them, e.g. I don't work for myself so have no need to wade through tax returns. I wish someone had taught me how to plaster - it seems like a bit of a black art. It is the same problem with these cut down office suites that come out. Everybody thinks M$ office is bloated and expensive, everybody has different ideas about the few core features they want in the free, cut down, non-bloated version. And those ideas change over time.

    I enjoyed school (shocker) because I enjoy learning stuff. It can be a bit like exercise - miserable and painful at first, but ultimately enjoyable and rewarding. School for me was the thing that taught me that it is worth the pain to learn, even for academic subjects that i will likely not use again. Thinking through relatively abstract subjects is more a lesson in thinking than a lesson in the subject.

    The interwebs generally contains all the data/facts we need. Friends and parents can help out. Night classes are available. Books can fill in the gaps. We can do and learn everything we need, given a little bit of time and pain and trial and error (hopefully not too expensive).

    Having said that, beyond fixing up my bicycle every 6 months or so, there is no way I am going to lie under a car in the cold dirt trying to play the part of Mr Mechanic. I guess life also teaches you which things suck so much you are prepared to pay the professionals to do for you.


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