What Do You Wish You Would’ve Learned In School?

After watching the video in this post about changing education paradigms I decided I wanted to do more than just gripe about how awful our education system has become. (And that includes the system itself, the majority of the teachers/professors, and a large percentage of the students as well. Everyone is at fault.)

Thinking about all the ways my education failed me, I asked a group of some intelligent peers what they wish they would’ve learned in school. Here are their responses:

Tom O’Keefe: How to be successful in the corporate world. Shaking hands (firmly), how to act and dress in an office, and other soft skills.

Sara Davidson: Communication and relationship-building skills, like how to work with difficult people, networking, how to persuade people, present your ideas in a more formal setting, etc.

  • Personal finance/investments
  • Current events (National and International)
  • Home and car care (absolute requirement)
  • Societal stereotypes and prejudice (to discuss racism, sexual discrimination issues, etc.)

And nowadays, I think they should teach a class solely focused on the web/social media – education on potential uses, ethical behavior, online privacy

Scott Hale: Would it be more worthwhile to focus on teaching “life skills” instead professional skills throughout the education system?

I wouldn’t say my education did much in the way of preparing me for the actual professional world (is it even possible to set expectations and perceptions accurately?), but skills like public speaking, relationship-building, professional norms, personal finance, etc. seem to be universal.

My Thoughts: In most high schools aside from basic Business Computer Information Systems technology classes are an elective. So is physical education. I think both of those are significantly more important classes for the AVERAGE student than Algebra II or Chemistry.

Jason Mollica: As for now, I think we need to teach good speaking skills. I can’t tell you how badly some folks speak. I’d also add better usage of technology

Rich Pulvino: I think public speaking should be mandatory

Evan Roberts: Photography. Kids should be given digital cameras early. Our textile world is becoming a lot more visual and symbolic, and it’s important for future generations to be able to communicate as effectively with pictures and they can with words.

Chris Stearns: Definitely agree with what’s been said so far. Would also like to see certain topics more integrated into current curriculum. For example, I know spreadsheets are a large part of my job (and others’ as well) but I never once opened a spreadsheet as a Communications major.

Patrick Johnson: To think on my own without only worrying about the final product. Wish they would’ve taught us how to realllly be creative.

David Spinks asked Patrick if he thought creativity was something you could teach…

My Thoughts: Maybe to an extent. I think you CAN alter the system itself such that educators entice more divergent thinking (something most young kids have), rather than promote the notion that there’s only ONE answer and that being good at test taking is the same as being smart/being prepared for the “real world.”

David Spinks: I wish I heard the word entrepreneur at least once. I wish they showed us the option to pave our own path instead of just filing us into our spots in corporations. I wish I had the opportunity to gain some real experience.

Ryan Knapp: Critical Thinking. Hands down the one skill that is sucked out of everyone while in school. Let’s face it, we really don’t need classes, but we need a way that encourages people to pursue their interests while providing them with a solid academic foundation.

Ryan Knapp Thought: Also debate and conflict resolution are high on my list along with challenging students with projects which allow them to actually figure out how they work best (i.e. in a group, by themselves, are they a leader, are they a follower, do they work best at night, in the day, what sort of focus do they have) Half an internship is learning about yourself and not the job you are doing, but we could make that so much easier by letting people explore who they are earlier.

Chris Stearns Thought: I also honestly believe that in many subjects (especially COM and BUS), text books are becoming/have become unnecessary. They’re incredibly expensive, aren’t used half the time and with things constantly changing and being brought online, I feel they’re becoming less relevant. Yes they still serve a purpose in many areas and are great as foundational tools, but there are better and more interactive ways in today’s society.

Ryan Knapp Thought: With that being said, we also need a focus on trades and other blue collar jobs. While we all want to be rock stars, not everyone is. My father was a C or D student at best, but could take a part a car and put it back together without any problem. He went to BOCES and learned how to be a mechanic and loved his job. We will always need people to fix cars, to install hardwood floor and provide good services, and we should support them with the same type of education that we support the person who invents the next great technological piece of equipment.

Tim Jahn Thought: Overall, I don’t feel that skills are missing from the educational system. Rather, it’s the mindset the system wants students to take. Listen to teacher, do what she says, don’t question, rinse, repeat. Creativity and individual thinking are discouraged. Even when they are encouraged, they’re destroyed by the reliance on standardized testing.

So there’s the thoughts of some really smart people, most making the transition from higher education to the “real world” in the last 5 years or so.

I have some thoughts, but I’d rather hear yours. What themes do you see emerging? This is something I’m passionate about and am excited to explore further. What avenues should I be pursuing? What do you wish you would’ve learned in school? What are your thoughts regarding our current education system?

I’m collating all your responses and input and using them as ammunition to help create positive change. Your opinion matters to me.

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  • I wish I had learned negotiation skills, sales skills, people skills. But I think the one thing that needs to be taught in school is proper money management. I don’t ever remember looking over samples of credit card bills in school.
    .-= Brad Gosse´s last blog ..Do you let people disrespect your time =-.


    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    @Brad – I agree that negotiation skills should be covered in depth even if it’s bringing in an experienced HR professional that could offer tips someone who’s spent the vast majority of their time in Academia might not necessarily think of.

    I think people skills are inherent in some people, but I do think that there are elements of working with people (i.e. gender differences, work style differences, ethnic differences, etc.) that can and should be explored.

    PERSONAL FINANCE. That’s one of my biggest ones. Then maybe half this country wouldn’t be in debt, would know how to save, create conscious spending plans, and would challenge everyday assumptions like “buying a house is automatically a great idea.” Hint: Not necessarily so.


    Clive Rich Reply:

    Negotiation is definitely a key skill to learn early. We all need deal-making skills to get on in life but they are rarely taught or practised. This means people negotiate largely by instinct, routinely making avoidable errors and getting less of what they want.
    .-= Clive Rich´s last blog ..Bad weather creates poor negotiating climate for BA =-.


  • I believe students want to see teachers/professors think more creatively. Instead of reading the boring textbook, offer a creative business book, from authors like Dan Ariely or Daniel Pink. Some professors do this already and are very good at it, and some do not. The educational system was founded on principles that don’t apply now. Learning is changing and schools need to change with it. It’s an overall mindset and will take great people within an organization to actually try to make a change. No one likes change – in fact, they avoid it. It is possible though that as the younger generations enter academia, the potential for change could skyrocket. (This is what I hope to do.) Soft skills absolutely need to be emphasized while teaching subject matter.
    .-= Diana Antholis´s last blog ..What NOT to do at Your Company Holiday Party =-.


    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    Exactly. I drag this example out a lot, but how cool would it have been to have the opportunity to take a class like this:

    You make an excellent point:
    The educational system was founded on principles that don’t apply now.

    It’s not the individual classes themselves that have to change (though they do as well), but the entire mindset, the structure of the classroom, the way in which students learn.

    How often do profs with tenure or K-12 teachers gradually begin giving up, getting bored, and growing stagnant in their approaches? All the time.

    We need to find a way to bottle the passion and energy of new teachers and keep that present throughout their careers.


  • I wish I learned passion.

    I don’t think I was ever really encouraged to find what I really loved until college (after which you already have to choose your major. Tests and grades and memorization take the focus off of actually learning different fields and enjoying what you are learning. I would love to learn Spanish now, but hated it in school because all I ever thought about was what grade I was going to get. Even in marketing courses, the emphasis was on memorizing concepts (some of that may be my fault, not the professors). Ultimately, I understand the need for grades to hold students accountable, but it simultaneously takes the emphasis off of really learning and growing that interest in different subjects.

    How to solve this? Good question. But you have to understand the problem before you can find the solution.
    .-= Jackie Adkins´s last blog ..“Customer” is a Dirty Word =-.


    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    Can someone teach passion? Maybe it’s a style or maybe it’s someone caring enough to help a student discover the passion already inside them. That’s a good concept to explore. I think I’ll teach Passion 101 this next fall for The University of Houston Downtown. Ha.

    But you’re right. I’ve LOVE to really learn Spanish, but I was too busy memorizing what I had to do get A’s in Spanish in college. 4 semesters, 4 A’s and I can’t speak a lick of it. Partially my fault? Sure, I’ll take responsibility, but those classes should’ve been harder. I should’ve had to immerse myself in the culture, watch Spanish movies, carry on conversation with native speakers, etc.

    If only a prof could’ve packaged your passion for burritos and translated that into passion in the classroom.


  • Megan Cassidy

    I wish I would have learned that where you go to college doesn’t decide your future, it’s what you do afterward. There’s such a stigma attached to “good” schools, the Ivy League, state schools, etc. For me, at least, college was much more about the experience than what we learned in class. I love what I learned, but I also loved everything that came with the school I chose. Students should go to the school that’s the best fit for them overall.

    Also, the video in the previous post got me thinking: what does that mean for students who go to law school or med school? I almost feel like those fields are an extreme example of how we were taught growing up: memorization, textbooks, listening to the teacher. I haven’t been to either, but there’s not much room for divergent thinking, like Ken was talking about.


    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    I agree… to an extent. I don’t know that it should matter, but I do know that someone with a Harvard MBA is likely going to have more chances than someone with an MBA from Texas Tech.

    One of my buddies who graduated from Harvard once said, “Look, our curriculum isn’t much harder than most state schools, but our professors are all notably published, most of them are consulting with huge brands. The profs and the network of students (as a whole) are usually more prepared to put you in a situation(s) where you have the opportunity to challenge yourself/succeed.”

    I think this is generally true, but I also agree with your point that a large portion of what you learn in school isn’t found in the classroom.

    I can’t speak to med school, but I have multiple friends in law school and they primarily have written essay finals that account for 100% of their grade. I envision that style of exam being conducive to attacking a problem from multiple angles provided you supported your argument with sound principles from the texts/lessons.

    And House frequently uses divergent thinking to solve his patients mysteries. :p


  • Great post and great conversation, Ryan! One skill that I think should be a part of high education (whether college or high school) is the ability to have a basic understanding of digital language. With computers now a part of every workplace, basic coding and digital design skills could allow those who don’t necessarily work in the field a better opportunity to communicate effectively with those who do.

    .-= Rich Pulvino´s last blog ..rpulvino- Streaming at 4 pm EST RT @nprnews- In one hour @nprmusic will stream Belle And Sebastian in concert- live from Glasgow- http-npr-dWn2wX =-.