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Posts Tagged ‘Life Skills’

Teaching Real Life Skills

In No Particular Path on April 16, 2021 at 4:16 pm

I’m seventy-three years old.  I was educated K-12 in a public school in a small town.  During my lifetime, I have learned how to do, and have done the following:

Change a tire, change the oil, replace the spark plugs (and not mix up the wires), replace the distributer, and Gerry-rig, then replace, an accelerator cable, and repair and replace a muffler.

Replace the transmission and later the whole engine in a Volkswagen.

Repair and replace electrical fixtures, and electrical appliances.

Build a wall in my house, install different types of doors, paint inside and outside walls, and wallpaper a room.

Grow my own vegetables, gather my own food, and cook entire meals, from salad to desert.

Cut and chop my own firewood.

Balance a checkbook and do my own taxes.

Do my own laundry, make my bed, and clean my house.

Raise children, including changing diapers, and dealing with sickness.

Understand important issues, develop an informed opinion, and participate as a citizen in a democracy.                                                                                                                                                 

I was never taught specifically how to do any of these things in public school.  Aside from one course (usually “Home-ec” for girls and shop for boys – yikes!”), what I was taught were the basic skills of language and reason.  The language not just of reading and writing English (and in my case, some German and Latin), but also the languages of mathematics, and science, and history, and social studies, and the arts.  I was taught how to use those things to understand and analyze and solve problems.  And I was taught to find appropriate and useful information when I needed it to solve new problems and accomplish new tasks.

I have, of course, not done all of these things with equal skill, and have made mistakes along the way, but that’s how life is.

As an adult I have done a variety of jobs, from farm worker to short order cook to soda jerk to dishwasher.  I have participated in the arts in a variety of ways. 

And I eventually became a teacher, teaching both high school and college.

So, when I see someone talking about how they think our schools should be teaching what they call “life skills” such as the things I have listed above, instead of things like algebra II, or art and music, or foreign languages, because the students “will never use them,” then I want to tell them that they do not understand what education is, or what essential “life skills” actually are.

The specific tasks of life will be different for each student.  Not all will need to grow food, not all will need to be DIY mechanics or carpenters, not all will need to cook for themselves or care for and raise children, not all will need to manage their own money or do their own taxes.  But every one of them will need to know what to do when life presents them with a challenge or an opportunity that their public-school education could not have anticipated with specific instruction.  Every one of them will need to know how to reason, and solve problems, and make good personal decisions, and live with other people as a citizen.  Every one of them will need to be able to communicate with others who will help them with the things they cannot, themselves, do.  Every one of them will need to know how to create a life that is greater than just eating and working and sleeping, but is fulfilling and creative in whatever ways they might desire.

The old saying “give someone a fish, they will eat for a day; teach them to fish and they will eat for a lifetime” leaves off the third option.  Teach someone how to learn, how to reason, how solve problems, handle challenges, create the life they need; and they will not be limited to eating fish just to survive.

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