As Paul Simon said in his song Kodachrome, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”
The problem with schools run by authorities – government or religious or philosophical – is that their agenda is to teach people to think in a way the authorities approve of. And this is not necessarily the way that’s going to benefit you, or those around you, the most. You have to learn that for yourself.
O’Reilly, the technical book publishers, have made a good thing out of their Missing Manual series. They’re the manuals that should have come with the software, but didn’t.
O’Reilly’s series inspired the title of this post, the Missing Curriculum. The idea of the post – teaching people stuff that they should have learned in high school, but didn’t – has been with me for a while now, shyly poking its head up when I wasn’t looking straight at it. But now it’s got over its shyness and is all up in my face.
Winning the game of school
As a young man, I got very good at a particular game. It was the game of “guess what the teacher wants to hear, and say that”. It got me a Master’s degree with first class honours (in other words, an A average).
Trouble was, I wasn’t any good at anything else.
Now, plenty of people who are only good at that game make a successful career out of playing it. I was just barely bright enough, though, to realise that if I went that route, I wouldn’t be happy, because I’d be living inauthentically.
I remember one day sitting, in between classes, on one of the big padded chairs that were dotted around the corridors of the arts building at my university. I was probably reading a book; that would have been like me. Along the corridor in opposite directions came two academics from the department.
They met by my chair and had a brief conversation. To this day, I can’t remember the content of that conversation, because there really wasn’t any. It was fakey and academic and false-jovial, and conveyed only the message: “I’m one of us, and you’re one of us, and aren’t we clever people?”
At that moment I decided that academic life wasn’t for me. I’ve never regretted that decision for even half a second.
Stuff that’s actually important to know
So here’s a list of things I’ve had to learn for myself since my formal education finished:
- Standing up for myself when it’s appropriate for my own protection
- Building positive relationships of all kinds
- Caring for and helping others
- Managing (or even identifying, or in fact even noticing) my own emotions and how they’re impacting my behaviour
- Persevering with things until I succeed at them
- Increasing my personal resources of health and resilience
- Articulating and pursuing my dreams
- Becoming aware of my own choices and motivations so I do less stupid stuff
- Getting over failure, disappointment and rejection
- Having self-confidence without arrogance
That’s the Missing Curriculum as I see it (feel free to add your own contributions in the comments).
Another thing I’ve learned is that the best teachers are the ones who’ve struggled to learn something themselves, because they’ve been through a process of learning that they can look back on, refine and replicate. I would be a terrible teacher of English (my major at university), because it comes too easily to me. But I think I have something to offer in teaching the Missing Curriculum. Learning that stuff was hard.
At howtobeamazing.com, the Missing Curriculum isn’t going to be missing any more. Join me as I share the lessons I’ve learned.
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