What I Really Wish I'd Learned In High School

by Rita Templeton
wish i'd learned in school

If you ask me what I learned in high school, I can rattle off a whole list of things. I learned, for example, to make sure the teacher’s not standing behind you when you draw a cartoon called “Super Penis” during study hall. I learned that the cafeteria ladies will frown upon a lunchtime request of “salad, no lettuce.” I learned that three tardy slips earn you an automatic detention. And I learned that my social studies teacher would ask no questions if you asked to leave his class because of “female problems.”

But when it comes down to actual academics, my memory is a little (okay, a lot) spotty. I couldn’t do an algebraic equation if it would earn me $100,000 and a few hours with Ryan Reynolds. I vaguely remember dissecting a frog in science, but mostly because the smell of formaldehyde is pretty damn unforgettable. I can’t remember how to conjugate Spanish verbs (although I do remember how to say “who farted?” — go figure).

I must have learned something because I graduated and got a college scholarship. But honestly, despite years of academia, I was fairly ill-prepared for adulthood and real life. Yeah, there were a few random life lessons thrown into a health class or home economics class here and there (use a condom, turn off the oven before you leave the house), but considering the amount of adulting we have to do once school is over, I feel like there should have been more emphasis on, you know, how to do that. I really could have used some in-depth lessons like…

How to Cook a Decent Meal

I think we might have made a batch of brownies and maybe some soup once in a seventh grade home ec class, but then we moved on to sewing pillows (a skill that I have used exactly zero times) before you could say “food poisoning.”

I learned how to make a mean packet of ramen noodles with bathroom tap water in my college dorm, but beyond that, it took me a while to find my way around the kitchen. The first few years of my marriage were fueled by dry chicken and Rice-A-Roni. And to anyone I ever invited to a dinner party: I apologize. Come over again. I can cook now. Kind of.

Nutrition (or How You’ll Feel Like Ass if You Eat Wrong)

In the same vein, they should have had a class called “Eat All the Taco Bell You Want Now Because Your Metabolism Will Take a Crap After 30.”

I know they teach you about the food pyramid and all that, but it would have been nice to have a more realistic, in-depth understanding of how food affects your health and your weight.

How to Maintain and Fix Your Shit

I always thought it would be so cool to have a house and a car. I just didn’t think about those things requiring me to do stuff with them to prevent deterioration and total crisis-mode breakdowns.

Knowing how to change my oil or the tires, and maybe some basic knowledge of plumbing and swapping out furnace filters — now, those things would’ve come in handy.

How to Fix Shit Made of Fabric

While we’re talking about fixing stuff, I wish I would have gotten a better grasp of sewing. Yes, I sewed a pillow in school once on a sewing machine. But do I sit around and stitch pillows all day now that I’m an adult? Nope.

I wish I’d learned about sewing for more practical applications — missing buttons, for starters, or how to graft devastating ripped limbs back onto beloved stuffed animals. Maybe if I had learned how to hem a garment properly, my son’s first Halloween costume wouldn’t have hit just below his knees (hey, I got carried away, okay?).

Laundry 101

When I was a teenager, laundry was simple: I gave it to my mom and she returned it clean. End of story. Oh, how I miss those days!

Now I’m doing laundry for a family of six, and as I’ve learned over the years — by tons of unfortunate trial and error — there’s so much more to it than dumping in the clothes and adding soap. I could have saved myself a lot of money on ruined items if I’d already been familiar with what will shrink, what will bleed, and how to get out stains like permanent marker and poop.

How to NOT Be a Financial Idiot

Back when I was in school, we learned (in, like, a weeklong unit) how to balance a checkbook. End of story.

I’m sure kids learn more than that these days, but it probably still isn’t enough to adequately prepare anyone for the monetary challenges of adulthood. (Step one: Receive paycheck. Step two: Throw it out the window.)

Considering the stacks of credit card offers stuffed into the P.O. boxes of college kids everywhere, building and maintaining credit would have been a great place to start. And even though I would have yawned my way through lessons on investing and saving for retirement, I might have retained at least a basic knowledge. And taxes — I know they’re inevitable (like death, right?), but it would have been solid to have some preliminary know-how about the ins and outs.

How to Save Money on Stuff

The harsh reality is that you’re probably going to be poor — or at least on a tight budget — at some point during young adulthood (if not your entire adult life). Wouldn’t it have been nice to learn how to stretch a dollar, or maybe to have had a class with some guest seminars by those extreme couponing geniuses, with a crash course in non-traditional ways to bring in extra income, like giving plasma or reselling garage sale finds?

The Fundamentals of Adult Communication

We spend a huge chunk of our time interacting with other adults. (The rest of it is spent on laundry.) From bosses and coworkers to spouses and neighbors to our kids’ teachers and various customer service representatives, we’re faced with situations all the time when it helps to know how to communicate effectively and not look like a socially inept goober.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really been a “people person,” so it would have really done me some good to have a class on how to successfully do everything from negotiating and advocating in a professional setting to comfortably making connections at a social event where I don’t know anyone.

You know what else would have been helpful? A unit on how to communicate openly and argue constructively with significant others. (Although then I might never have launched a cheeseburger at my husband as a newlywed, which, although it wasn’t the best reaction, does make for a good story.)

I’d like to think that if I had been offered these classes in high school, I’d have started out much more prepared. In reality, though, I probably would have daydreamed my way through them, retaining only enough info to pass. No matter how important you tell them something is, teenagers don’t get it. They think 25 is old, so they can’t possibly see the point of learning a skill they won’t need for another decade or two. I know I wouldn’t have.

Besides, I was too busy doing important stuff during school hours, like doodling penises wearing capes.