If you’re like me then school wasn’t exactly your cup of tea.
I found it overly abstract and too focused on memorization.
That’s why I’ve made this list of 51 things they should teach in school but don’t.
1) Physical survival skills
In our high-tech world, it’s easy to forget that we’re still fragile, physical beings.
Basic physical survival skills are something that should be taught in school.
Under this category I would include outdoor skills like building basic shelters, starting a fire, using a compass, learning to conserve body heat, edible plants, and using the stars for orientation.
We may feel invincible, but there are no guarantees in life, and when a school focuses too much on high-tech skills at the expense of practical skills it makes us weaker and puts us all in danger.
2) Mental survival skills
Mental toughness should never be underestimated.
I’ve been listening to the book Can’t Hurt Me by Navy SEAL and ultra-marathon runner David Goggins and he makes powerful points about the power of our mind.
Goggins grew up in an abusive home and faced racism, poverty and self-esteem struggles but he overcame it all to achieve things most of us would consider impossible.
As Goggins says:
“Be more than motivated, be more than driven, become literally obsessed to the point where people think you’re fucking nuts.”
3) How to cultivate healthy relationships
Sure – we’ve all had sex-ed classes. But how many schools actually teach about healthy relationships? The signs of toxic love? How to love yourself?
My guess is none.
But these are all such crucial lessons to learn – we’re going to spend a large part of our lives either pursuing relationships or being in one!
4) How to cook
I’m a food lover and lately, I’ve also been improving my cooking skills.
Back in middle school, I do remember a “home economics” class where we made tuna melts and some basic food, but it didn’t exactly change my life.
Schools need to start from the basics:
Teach you the food groups and then one or two delicious recipes for them.
Maybe a soup, a carb-heavy meal, and a protein-heavy meal – plus a dessert.
Focusing more on cooking would make all of our lives tastier and healthier, plus it would save a ton of money we all waste eating out or ordering takeout!
5) Managing personal finances
You might learn about the Great Depression in history class or basic economics, but managing personal finances isn’t on most school curricula.
Doing taxes properly, understanding budgeting, and learning about banking and other simple topics are vital for all of us.
If schools taught greater financial literacy, perhaps we could also begin to make more of a dent in the debt and financial insolvency that’s wracking our societies.
6) Cleaning and household organization
Currently, I’m back home visiting family and trying to help my mom organize and clear out her house a little.
And let me just say…It’s a mess!
Learning more about cleaning and household organization would be an excellent course to teach in school, starting with organizing your sock drawer and all the way to minimizing paper waste and garbage!
This could include lessons about how to shop for products that will stand the test of time as well, since broken yard tools and home appliances seem to often comprise so much of the waste and mess that builds up around us in our homes.
7) The importance of honesty
Your parents may have raised you to care a lot about telling the truth, but school can be a rough place.
Between being excluded or bullied and all the peer pressure, it’s easy to lose sight of honesty and start lying about who you are and what you believe in order to fit in.
Schools should teach the importance of honesty with hands-on exercises and ways to make telling the truth cool again.
8) Farming and growing food
In addition to cooking, learning how to actually grow food is something students should learn.
One proviso here:
I actually did learn farming in school.
I went to elementary school in a system called Waldorf education, based on the philosophy of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
We had a field out on the schoolyard where we grew vegetables and we even learned how to thresh wheat the old-fashioned way.
We also banded together in Grade 4 with our teacher and a couple adults and helped build a garden shed!
I wish all students had the same amazing, hands-on opportunity in other schools as well.
9) Basic home and tool repair
Having a house or apartment is awesome, whether you own or rent.
And learning to use basic tools from monkey wrenches to drills to screwdrivers makes life so much easier.
But when you have to do it all from YouTube tutorials it can be stressful.
That’s why school curricula should teach basic home repair and tool proficiency.
Not everyone needs to become a certified plumber, but learning how to fix a toilet or do a simple repair on your drywall would be extremely useful.
10) Looking critically at the media
One thing about being in Waldorf education growing up is that I wasn’t exposed to all the same media as other kids.
And although I was a big fan of the Simpson’s and watching sports, once I did see what the other guys and gals were into I was kind of shocked.
Because most of it was pretty stupid with some really negative messages.
And this is the 1990s and early 2000s we’re talking about here. It’s only gotten worse since then.
School should teach kids to take a critical look at “popular” shows and celebrities and the messages they’re putting out. It’s not all good stuff they’re putting out that will empower kids and young adults — not by a long shot.
11) Looking after our planet
Environmentalism has become more well-known and popular but I feel like it’s also become a fashion accessory or boutique belief for some, including in school.
Caring about our planet should not be a way to signal which identity group or political view you hold.
Environmentalism isn’t about showing what a good person you are, it’s about…helping the environment.
Environmentalism should be a core value for everyone.
It’s time to teach kids and teens how to look after our planet in practical, everyday ways, not just by bragging about wearing eco-conscious clothes or how they gave money to a save the whales foundation.
Examples include teaching students about better ways to recycle at home, reduce waste, consume responsibly, reduce climate change and learn about pollution and toxic chemicals that are in many consumer products including food.
12) How to get along with family
We don’t choose our families, and sometimes they can present real challenges to our mental and physical wellbeing.
Whether it’s parents, extended relatives, siblings, or even family friends we have an issue with, nobody really explains how to deal with family conflicts.
Schools should do more to teach students about how to coexist productively and harmoniously in a family.
And they should teach more about how to draw a line in the sand when a boundary is crossed by a family member.
13) Nutrition and self-care
I would love if schools did more to teach students their way around the kitchen, like I wrote.
And I’d also love if there was more in school about nutrition and self-care. This includes learning about food groups, dieting, and body image issues.
Self-care should include mental health as well, although not to the point of pathologizing normal life problems or calling all discomfort a disorder.
Life’s hard, and part of school should be to prepare us for that.
14) Basic First Aid
Basic First Aid should be a thing all students learn as soon as they’re old enough to pay attention and remember detailed instructions.
This includes CPR, the Heimlich maneuver, bandaging wounds, recognizing signs of common medical crises, and so forth.
First Aid isn’t always something that can be left to paramedics or adults. And students should know the basics.
15) The limits of police power
With racial injustice and police violence in the news these days I believe students should be instructed on the limits of police power.
That includes recognizing when police are authorized to use force or not and the limits of their rights in questioning or accusing you of wrongdoing without proof.
Police have a hard job and I respect the hell out of the vast majority of them.
However, a few run-ins of my own with overzealous cops also showed me the danger of not knowing your rights around police and their potential to walk all over you.
16) Different views of history
You may be reading this from the United States, Canada or Europe, or you could be from Indonesia, Kenya or Argentina. Or from any other nation on this big earth of ours.
School systems vary all over the world.
But one thing they tend to have in common is that they teach history from their own nation’s point-of-view.
That is to be expected, of course.
But I do believe that comparative history and looking at history from different perspectives would greatly improve international relations and broaden students’ understanding of conflict, cultural clashes and subjects like racism, conquest, and competing economic systems.
17) Critical study of foreign policy
Students should never feel like what they’re learning has no relation to the real world.
One way in which many educational systems could improve is to offer courses which take a critical view on foreign policy.
What I mean by critical is analytical:
Rather than necessarily moral judgments, students would take a look at how economics, culture, religion and more drive foreign policy decisions.
They could begin to have a firmer grasp of the way collective groups are manipulated or unified for positive and negative reasons and become more empowered by knowing about that.
18) Negotiation skills
Another of the top things they should teach in school, but don’t, is negotiation skills.
As former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss teaches in his masterclass, “everything in life is a negotiation.”
From opening a bank account to deciding whether to go to the gym today or not, you’re always in some form of a negotiation with others or yourself.
You can’t change everything, but your understanding and inputs can make a huge difference.
19) Focus on learning languages
Many schools offer a second language, but when I was in school most kids weren’t that into it.
I’d love it if learning languages became more intensive and applied, including with days exploring the other cultures, eating their cuisine, and so on.
Learning languages was the best thing I ever did in school and where I made many of my best friends, and it would be great if more students had the same chance.
20) Caring for animals
Whether you have a pet or not, learning to care for animals is an excellent skill to have.
Schools should teach students the basics of animal care and how to feed and care for their pets and livestock.
Basic animal nutrition, animal psychology, the value of animal friendship, and many other valuable lessons could be taught.
Learning more about our furry friends is all a part of being better stewards and inhabitants of the planet.
21) Practicing interpersonal and communication skills
Practicing interpersonal skills can include things like learning non-violent communication.
One form of NVC, developed by the late Marshall Rosenberg, has shown especially good results at resolving ethnic, religious, and group conflicts.
These days students are asked to absorb a lot of information, but they’re not taught much about how to resolve personal differences and disagreements.
That could be changed.
22) Learning moral values
This is a tricky one because people will say that education isn’t in the business of instilling morals and that it’s up to families to impart the wisdom to their kids that they want them to absorb.
I sort of agree, but at the same time given how broken many families are, a lot of moral wisdom is going to have to come from teachers and schools.
I just want to make sure it’s the right kind.
Teaching basic right and wrong shouldn’t be controversial. Let’s do it.
23) Climbing, kayaking, and outdoor sports
Most schools have some sort of physical education and sports program, but I wish that outdoor sports were more of a focus.
That could be everything from climbing to kayaking to whitewater rafting.
Outdoor sports have a double bonus:
They work out new muscles and get your cardiovascular system pumping, and they also get you out into the beauty of Mother Nature.
What could be better?
24) Learn more about basic construction
Like I was writing about, in elementary school, I got the chance to do some construction with my class.
In high school, we also had a shop class where we made birdhouses and cut a few boards.
I think that’s great and we should see more of it.
Construction builds everything around us and these days things like 3D printing can also be added to the list of topics because construction technology is accelerating fast!
25) Real talk about sex
Obviously, sex education is a thing. But I don’t think it’s very well done.
People mock abstinence and religious sex education as prudish or ignorant, but I think that the whole “do whatever you want” school of sex education is also a little bit reckless in the opposite way.
Sex education should go back to being more scientific.
Leave out the gender identity and ultra-woke stuff. Stick to body parts, biology and facts.
26) How to form relationships
Another topic which should be covered in school is relationships.
Specifically: how to form them and maintain them.
There are all sorts of dating going on for sure, but most of it is fairly instinctive and a lot of people get burnt pretty badly, even at a young age.
Teaching about relationships and how to start and maintain them would be a superb addition to the high school curriculum.
27) Increase gender understanding
These days there’s plenty in high school about how gender is a construct and all that.
But it would be great if schools taught more about gender understanding between men and women.
There’s still far too much domestic abuse going on (including wives hitting and verbally abusing their husbands).
And increasing each gender’s understanding of each other would go a long way to improving society.
You know what’s not cool? Getting a computer virus. Or being blackmailed online.
Or getting a huge ransomware attack at your company or along the biggest oil pipeline in the US.
What could start to help prepare people for this stuff is to teach more about cybersecurity in school. It doesn’t have to be advanced, but let’s cover the basics.
29) How to detect news bias
Looking at popular culture with a critical eye should be done in school, and I think the same goes for the news.
Many students may have opinions about how the left-wing or right-wing cable news is biased or how certain newspapers skew certain directions.
But instead of teaching them simplistic A versus B constructions, teach them to actually recognize bias and misinformation in news.
This world could use more critical thinkers. Why not start in school?
Meditation is one of those things that gets better the more you do it.
There’s no need to be perfect or meet someone else’s expectations, but there are techniques that make it much more effective and beneficial.
Teaching this to students would raise up future generations of calmer, happier people.
And which of us would call that a bad thing?
31) Learning more computer programs
Learning your way around computers is obviously a core component of many curricula these days.
But the range of programs still tends to be fairly small.
Why not let kids dabble in architecture design programs, video editing, and more?
There is so much potential if the funding was there!
32) Responsible phone use
One of the biggest things they should teach in school, but don’t is responsible phone use.
Personally, I don’t think anyone under 16 should have a smartphone, but my views aren’t the law.
And parents are the ones who make those decisions.
So the least that schools can do is teach kids and teens how to use their phones in a responsible way and avoid phone addiction, eyesight damage, and poor posture.
They can also teach them about the danger of not watching where they’re going due to texting as well as the awful danger of driving and texting which takes many lives each year.
33) Religious literacy
Some schools teach about world religions, but it tends to be quite surface level about facts and figures.
School should teach us what people believe and why starting from the ground up.
Religious literacy isn’t just about names and dates or how many Muslims live in India. It’s about understanding the root of religious beliefs and theology.
34) Corporate and business accountability
Corporate wrongdoing seemed to flash on everyone’s radar back with the Enron scandal in the early 2000s and again with the 2008 financial meltdown.
People were shocked to hear about predator banks passing out subprime mortgages and tanking the economy to make a profit.
But it won’t surprise you to know that dirty bankers and corporations are still up to their dirty tricks.
And it would be optimal if students were to learn the basics of corporate accountability and responsibility in school.
If nothing else this would help them remember a twinge of conscience someday if they’re in a position of corporate power.
35) Democracy education
Democracy isn’t just an automatic process that happens magically.
It takes participation, education, and knowledge of our rights and freedoms.
If students are expected to become knowledgeable and engaged voters and democratic citizens, it’s a good idea to start off early.
They should be taught the basic rules of voting and the core principles of a democratic society. We’ll all be better off for it.
36) Local politics and local history
One problem with modern education is that it can be too weighted towards national and international studies.
Learning about local politics and local history makes perfect sense.
It would give students the opportunity and knowledge to get more involved in the issues and problems impacting their communities and increase their feeling of agency and belonging.
They would also gain firsthand knowledge about how municipal politics and local issues play out and get resolved.
Local politics and history matter. Let’s teach them to students.
37) Understanding the legal system
I understand that elementary, middle, and high school aren’t going to turn students into Harvard Law grads.
But what they can do is offer these aspiring scholars basic insights and information into how their country’s legal system functioned.
This can serve the dual purpose of educating them about their legal rights and protections as well as preparing them to be better citizens and more equipped for potential activism in the service of positive causes at a later age.
38) The meaning of community
I believe that there can never be too much community spirit.
Giving students the opportunity to volunteer and become more engaged in their community is an excellent idea.
Although many schools offer internships and volunteer opportunities that translate into credits, making these kinds of initiatives more of a core part of school systems would be smart.
This could include ideas like visiting old folks’ homes to sing and spend time with the residents, cleaning up the local forests and parks, or volunteering at soup kitchens.
39) How to start a business
Starting a business isn’t easy, and the regulations seem to keep piling up.
With all the red tape and changing rules, it can be hard to motivate the next generation of entrepreneurs.
More business education is needed in schools.
40) In-depth view of advancing technology
In addition to learning their way around more computer programs, students should be taught about advancing technology.
Drones, facial recognition, and even “biohacking” are now topics that affect our daily life and things which students should be informed about.
As technology grows by leaps and bounds, our moral conscience and ethics don’t necessarily keep pace.
Students need to learn about the pros and cons of the latest tech.
41) Acing job interviews
Being smart as a whip is great, but if you’re terrible at job interviews you’re going to have a challenge drawing a paycheck on the regular.
The solution is to have schools teach more about how to ace a job interview.
Lessons should cover all the way from the handshake to the job offer and contract negotiation.
Teaching students how to ace job interviews would be a superb and practical skill that would directly benefit them.
42) How to fix bikes, lawnmowers, and vehicles
Two modes of transport which many of us use on a daily basis are vehicles and bikes.
We also use things like lawnmowers — riding or hand-pushed — all the time.
These days many vehicles and lawnmowers can’t be manually fixed and require being taken into a dealer and fixed by a computer-linked diagnostic tool.
But it’s still worth teaching kids and teens about the basics of how an engine works so they can tool their way around and fix some basics.
43) Using social media responsibly
Along with learning to look up from your phone and stop hunching over it like a manic Gollum, students should learn how to use social media responsibly.
Cyberbullying adds a whole new level of cruelty to the peer pressure and injustices of school, and social media addiction is also a serious problem.
Girls — and guys — get addicted to perfecting their online image and end up experiencing much worse symptoms of depression, anger, and disillusionment when their real-life ends up falling short of their real life.
44) Building a happy family
Not everyone wants a family. I get that.
But for those of us who do — and even those who want to live in a non-traditional structure that’s a sort of new style family — school could play an important role in educating us.
There’s probably nothing harder than starting and keeping a family.
Just physical safety alone is enough to floor a genius.
Then when you add in how to navigate all the relationships with your partner, kids and relatives you have a real jigsaw puzzle.
They should teach about how to build a happy family in school.
45) Basic sewing and tailor work
The thing with clothes, bags, shoes, boots and other things is that they tend to rip and break.
Teaching basic mending and tailoring would be a wonderful skill for students to have.
It’s also quite relaxing and fun to repair your clothes when they get a little tear, and boys and girls can both learn to mend like a superstar.
46) Learn how to care for a sick loved one
One of the unfortunate facts of life is that people will love are going to get sick someday.
And I believe that one of the things they should teach in school, but don’t is how to look after a sick loved one.
It’s incredibly taxing to care for someone who’s ill.
Even basic issues around medication, medical care, buying or renting medical equipment and so on can be a real brain twister. It should be taught in school.
47) Encouragement of true diversity
These days you can’t walk a step without hearing about how diversity is our strength.
And I fully agree.
But I don’t agree with the Mickey Mouse, fake flashing lights kind of way.
Actual diversity includes people from all different walks of life. Including people from groups you may find backward or silly, or unfashionable.
Schools should encourage and teach about true diversity.
48) More debate and discussion
Debate clubs are a great part of school, but many classes I recall didn’t have much discussion or debate.
They were just you sitting there and listening to the teacher drone on and on.
I think that students should be encouraged to talk to each other more in class and express their convictions, doubts and thoughts.
Let’s get the debate amped up and active in school and work on exploring our identities and beliefs more fully.
49) How to overcome failure
Life is going to knock all of us down.
And not all of us have the community support network, relatives or belief systems to help us get back up.
School can play a more central role in bringing in motivational speakers, experts and heroic individuals to inspire and regale students with stories and philosophies that will empower and energize them.
Never give up is easy to say. But when you show it in person it can be much more powerful.
And one day when students think back they will remember that teacher, speaker, or course in high school that really made an impression on them.
50) Practical philosophy
Carrying on from that theme, I found both my high school and university overly focused on ideas for their own sake.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m fascinated by ideas.
But I’m fascinated by how they apply to life, not just twisting them endlessly into word pretzels inside my head.
I’m not interested in a two-hour lecture on “what is virtue” by a teacher who can’t even tell us when it’s OK to lie, or what makes couples cheat, or whether violence is ever justified.
Let’s get practical with philosophy courses, not abstract!
51) Different ways to look at success
In our society, the first thing someone usually asks when they meet you is: “So, what do you do?”
That’s all well and good, and I get it.
As far as small talk goes, talking about your job or career is a decent icebreaker. But defining our identity and success by our job or income level is also only one (shallow) way of looking at it.
Schools should teach students about different metrics for defining success.
I like the way author Roy Bennett phrases it:
“Success is not how high you have climbed, but how you make a positive difference to the world.”
We don’t need no education…
Well, actually, as I hope this list has demonstrated, we do need an education:
It should just be focused on a little bit more than arithmetic and reading.
Is there anything I missed here?
I’d love to hear your suggestions as well.