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Practical Life Lessons 101Posted Friday, March 13, 2009, at 8:48 AM
In Monday's Speak Out column, someone made this comment about "financial learning" in schools: "I was shocked when I found out that children are not taught the simplest form of finances in school. I believe this should be mandatory and started by at least fourth grade, especially now."
The comment caught my attention not because it was wildly off-base, like many Speak Out comments are, but because it sounds just like something my dad has said on many occasions. Read on:
Last June, I graduated from college. Two months later, I had landed a job, moved six hours from home, begun my first grown-up job, and settled into my first apartment — no parents, no sisters, no roommates. In that short time, I went from being a confident graduate ready to take on the world, to a naive 22-year-old realizing that my college degree did not come with all the tools needed for survival in the real world.
I love living on my own, but I'm constantly facing new situations that I have no idea how to handle. Too many of my calls home begin with a "Hey Mom, how do I..." or "Dad, what does it mean when..." My dad used to be shocked that I hadn't learned any practical skills in school. For all he was paying for my college tuition, what good was it if I didn't know how to change a car battery or file my own income taxes? I used to roll my eyes and tune him out. Obviously, I was learning much more important, academic things in school, Dad. I would have plenty of time to worry about adulthood when the time came. While my parents did their best to teach me the things they thought I should know, I'm ashamed to say that I was often too stubborn or impatient to listen.
Well, now that I've paid someone else to replace my car battery and am terrified of botching my taxes, I think Dad may be on to something. Why don't schools teach these things, anyway? Brain smarts aren't much good without real world smarts to get you through everyday life. Perhaps college seniors should take a capstone course titled "Practical Life Lessons 101." Among the curriculum included:
1. Car Care for Beginners: How to replace a battery, swap out a flat tire, and what to do if you're in an accident, your car won't start, or you lock your keys in your car.
2. Finding Trustworthy Help: Tips on selecting the right insurance agent, doctor, dentist, auto mechanic and more.
3. Apartment Hunting 101: My parents, longtime landlords, would teach this course, explaining how to tell if a neighborhood is safe, if the landlord is reliable, and whether an apartment is truly worth the price.
4. Taxes for Dummies: Everything you need to know about preparing your taxes, including a list of necessary documents, definition of terms, and step-by-step instructions.
5. Employee Benefits and You: Life insurance, 401(k)s, Flex Spending Accounts, beneficiaries — what does it all mean, and how can you get the most from it?
6. The Beauty of Budgeting: How to survive without shopping, differentiate between needs and wants, and allocate money for the essentials: food, rent, utilities and transportation.
7. 201 Reasons You Don't Need a Credit Card: My parents would also teach this course, with help from their hero, Christian financial expert Dave Ramsey.
8. Romance in the Real World: How to meet new people without setting foot in a bar, learn to be happy and single, determine whether he/she is marriage material, and handle break-ups with maturity.
9. Finding the Handyman within Yourself: Learn to do those essential home skills that Mom and Dad made look so easy. Included: how to unclog a bathtub drain, hang a photo straight (the first time), fix a loose toilet seat, maximize your apartment space, and turn one electrical outlet into four.
10. Home Economics: This isn't your junior high home economics class, where you made sugar cookies and stuffed animals. Learn how to make quick, easy and affordable meals, pack lunches you'll never tire of, hem pants and sew buttons.
Ok, so maybe right now you're laughing at my naivete and insisting that there is no good reason why I shouldn't already know these things. But think about it: years ago, my parents probably entered the "real world" well studied in things like finances and home repair because it was an expectation — not a choice — for them to help out around the house. Kids of my generation did chores in exchange for a weekly allowance, played video games while Mom cooked dinner, and watched TV while Dad figured out why the car was making that funny noise. We stayed after school for extracurricular activities, slept in every Saturday, and got summer jobs — not to help support our families, but to earn our own spending money or, if we were ambitious, to save for college. Even more, America has the luxury of letting "kids be kids" until age 18 or beyond. I'm not sure if things were better then or now...but it certainly has changed the transition from childhood and adulthood.
What do you think? How did you learn some of these life lessons? Should schools teach more "practical" skills, as my father and our Speak Out contributer have suggested?
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Robyn Gautschy writes for special publications at the Southeast Missourian. She is a 2008 graduate of North Central College in Naperville, Ill., where she studied journalism, sociology and gender and womenıs studies. She enjoys discussing everyday life situations because they are almost always related to bigger and more complex issues.