I've been out of school for ten years. I was the graduating class of 2001, and I think this is a good time to reflect on what I actually needed to know in the working world to survive. Here are my top five things from school that I have used and am so glad I went through school to learn.
5 - Earth Science
I took this course my Freshman year in high school, 1997 - 98. It was one of the hardest classes I'd ever taken up until that point. I got stuck with it for a double period, there was homework every day, the teacher was a no-nonsense, humorless man (on the surface), and I happened to be stuck with a final exam so difficult they offered retakes the following year. Lectures were long and boring and who the fuck cares about the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks?
But you know what, in spite of all that, I learned a lot in that class. The weather unit was especially interesting, learning about cold fronts, warm fronts, what causes wind and rain, etc. It's been valuable general knowledge that has come in handy many times.
4 - Basic Computer Skills (including typing and document formatting)
I didn't learn how to type in school. I bought a typing tutor program and taught myself because I knew I needed it. But before that, when computers were first starting to become prevalent in the early 90's, somebody had to teach the kids how to use one. Basic mouse skills like clicking and dragging. Basic computer terminology like scrolling, double-clicking, window and virus. All on a Macintosh SE.
I don't know if kids these days learn this stuff in school or if they're born with the knowledge as a product of evolution, but it was a big part of middle school for me, laying a foundation that would allow me to take off and soar on my own in later years.
Learning about document formatting in High School was also very useful. Up until then, Word was a bit of a mystery to me. Learning what a tabstop is and how to use it was very valuable and I'm glad I know it now.
3 - Arithmetic
Addition. Subtraction. Multiplication. Division. Decimals. Rounding. Fractions. Basic geometry. The core of mathematics. This is what normal people come into contact with every day. It's the stuff we actually need.
Why does school waste so much time teaching kids about things like matrices and quadratic equations, never explaining exactly what this stuff is for or why we're learning it? The practical stuff is what they should concentrate on. I use the "% over 100 = is over of" ratio all the time, and it's so handy! Basic math skills are what I needed most when learning how to make a budget and balance a checkbook.
But that stuff is rarely taught in school. I remember one of my teachers in high school remarking that all the useful, practical stuff (like Business Math) gets cut from the curriculum, leaving only the most useless classes. We have our priorities mixed up.
2 - Reading and Writing
Here's a no-brainer. It's probably the most valuable skill school teaches kids, and yet it is languishing. You know how I learned? Phonics. Yes, the method that seems to have been dismissed from public schools worked for me. The ability to read and write well is critical to success as a human being, not just in the working world, because it opens the mind up to every possibility imaginable.
Reading and writing teaches people how to comprehend ideas. It's what has the most potential for us to figure out how to rise above a situation and consider something brand new. So why are schools slacking in teaching it? An even better question to ask is: why are we cutting funding to public schools, police and fire departments while billion-dollar corporations get bailed out? This is what the 99% protests are all about, people. Normal people are finally angry about it and they don't want to lie down and take it.
Anyway, back on subject, the number 1 most useful thing I learned in school has got to be:
1 - Public Speaking
There was no single class I learned this from, but much of it came from my sophomore year in high school Biology Class. Getting up in front of the class and giving a presentation was a routine thing, and I had to get used to the idea of speaking in front of a group of people.
Theater class was another instance where I had to put myself on the spot and risk looking and sounding like a dork in front of everybody. This turned out to be a valuable skill, because I'm not nervous in front of crowds anymore. It's a skill everybody needs to know, because sooner or later you will be put on the spot, and you have to know how to accept this and perform while exposed and under scrutiny.
Next I'll discuss the top five most useless things out of school. You know you wanna see 'em!