The 10 Most Important Things They Didn't Teach You In School

#5. Health: How to Stop Throwing Your Money Away on Snake Oil

Go to the drug aisle in your grocery store. In between the pills and the vitamins will be a huge shelf full of herbal supplements that promise to do everything from helping you lose weight to easing joint pain to making your brain work better.

And it's all bullshit. All of it.

Worse, it's bullshit that we spend $34 billion a year on, almost a third as much as we spend on prescription drugs that actually do something.

Just to be clear: Scientists have spent billions in government money carefully testing the effectiveness of this stuff. Their results? No, echinacea can't cure your cold. Gingko doesn't do anything for your brain, glucosamine and chondroitin won't fix your arthritis. Hoodia gordonii won't help you lose weight.

If it were good for you, it probably wouldn't be covered in horrible spikes.

Don't get us wrong; we completely realize that lots of the drugs we have now were once naturally occurring in plants and that it is therefore possible that out there, somewhere, is a leaf yet undiscovered by science that will cure your diabetes. But if so, these jerkoffs in the grocery aisle aren't going to be the ones who find it.

They're scam artists.

They're so sure their supplements don't do anything they don't do any actual quality control to track how much of the supplement is in each pill. They just throw a little bit in there and shrug. Aren't they worried about people accidentally overdosing? No, they're not. They know you can't overdose on a placebo.

All they're doing is "curing" ailments that either naturally go away on their own (colds, joint pain) so you wind up falsely attributing the relief to the supplement, or they're claiming to cure conditions that are hard to quantify (see supplements for "alertness" or "stress relief"). Snake oil salesmen have been getting away with that technique for thousands of generations.

Students, we're counting on you to make sure that ours is the last.

Chapters Include:

I. Pharmaceutical Companies Are Dicks, But at Least They Use Scientists;
II. Why Hippies Have Never Discovered a Single Disease Cure;
III. "Homeopathic" is Another Word for Voodoo Bullshit;
IV. Just Go See a Doctor You Big Baby.

NOTE: Weight Loss supplements will be explored in-depth in...

#4. Health: Why Losing Weight Requires Some Amount of Suffering

First of all, know that some people are naturally thin. They often skip meals just because they forgot to eat, and/or enjoy hobbies that involve burning calories as a byproduct--basketball, cycling, whatever. They'll never be fat and they'll never have to think about it. They're excused from this class.

Take a walk.

This course is for the rest of you, who will spend your life fatter than what our society considers ideal, and who will forever be uncomfortable in your own skin as a result. You'll spend many dollars on bullshit exercise equipment that promises to make working out "easy." You'll jump on diet fads, eating a bunless hamburger with a knife and fork one week, eating nothing but cabbage soup the next.

Each and every one of these will fail (the success rate for dieters over the long term is close to 0 percent) because they're all based on the utterly false premise that you can lose weight without ever feeling sore or hungry or some other negative sensation. It is not possible.

Students, imagine that in front of you is a castle. That's where you want to be. But surrounding that castle is a moat, full of piranha. The only way to get into Sexy Abs Castle is to swim across the moat and let the little fish painfully chew off hunks of fat. The real situation is exactly like that, only the swim will take years.

Sexy Abs Castle is also heavily guarded.

Your body will get really mad at you when you try to lose weight, because it thinks you're starving to death. You have to go into any weight loss plan knowing that you will suffer, and just have to man up in preparation for it. Otherwise, just live with it. Being fat isn't the end of the goddamned world.

Chapters Include:

I. Hunger is Fat Leaving the Body;
II. Eating Three Square Meals a Day Will Absolutely Make You Fat if You Sit in a Chair All Day;
III. Have You Considered Walking Instead of Driving;
IV. How to Dress in Ways That De-Emphasize Your Fatness.

NOTE: The above class is a prerequisite for...

#3. Home Economics: How to Cook Cheap Food That Won't Kill You

Most of you will gain weight in college. You'll be poor, and cheap food makes you fat, as adding salt and fat is the easiest way to make poor quality food taste good. Ramen noodles, Taco Bell burritos, six-dollar pizzas from Papa John's... all of it is dirt cheap, and all contains way more calories than you're going to burn while sleeping through classes and playing Guitar Hero.

Fortunately, there are ways around this if you're willing to put in a little time. As it turns out, spices are also cheap, as are some meats, and dried pasta, and vegetables. You just have to combine them the right way. But no matter what you come up with, it would be extremely difficult to cook something as unhealthy as a Quarter-Pounder Value Meal.

Don't be fooled by the track suit!

Chapters Include:

I. Pay Attention to Serving Sizes on the Label, They're Laughably Small;
II. Fat Free Versions of Fat Foods Are Terrible, Don't Bother;
III. Seriously, Fat Free Cheese Doesn't Melt;
IV. It's Hard to Screw Up Spaghetti;
V. Why if You Eat Fruity Pebbles for Dinner, You'll be Hungry Again 30 Minutes Later;
VI. If You Make a Pot of Chili and Freeze Bowls of It You'll Totally Have Like Two Months' Worth of Meals There.

#2. Political Science: Why Talk Radio is a Terrible Source of Information

Politics are boring, and for the 20 percent or so of you who will spend a lot of time following politics, many of you will do so via entertaining political talk shows on radio or cable.

Now, we don't have time to go into the mind-boggling list of idiotic things Glenn Beck has said, and will not laboriously debunk the rantings of the hundreds of other political talk show hosts like him. What you need to understand is that with talk radio and TV, the format itself makes accuracy utterly impossible. It's fairly simple, really. If a political talk show is going to get ratings, it has to have two things in every episode:

A. A clear, simple thesis (ie, Liberals Are Destroying America, Corporations Are Destroying America) that continues through every single segment;
B. Up to the minute commentary on current events.

"Things are happening in the world. But more importantly, look at me."

You see the problem: These two things are going to sometimes conflict.

Even if the thesis of a show is Pie is Awesome, the host is still going to wake up one day and see headlines about a pie recall because some tainted filling killed 173 people. Guess what: he still has to do a show that day about why Pie is Awesome. He will manipulate B to make it fit A, even if he has to lie. He doesn't draw a paycheck otherwise.

Likewise, if the big headline tomorrow is that Barack Obama single-handedly fought and slew Lucifer, Glenn Beck still has to do a show about how Obama is an Anti-Christian Communist out to destroy America. That's what his show is about; that's what the listeners tune in for, that's what his advertisers paid for. If he doesn't follow through, his audience will simply turn the dial until they find someone who's willing to tell them what they want to hear.

So, because a talk show has to, by necessity, sometimes skew or outright lie about current events in order to maintain the entertainment value of their show, trying to learn about current events by listening to a talk show is like learning physics by watching cartoons.

Chapters Include:

I. If the Host Compares His Opponents to Communists or Nazis, He is Crazy;
II. Why Politics Cannot be Simplified;
III. If the Host Uses Derisive Nicknames for His Opponents, He Has Nothing to Teach You.

#1. Social Studies: Life is Hard and You Will Die, Get Over It

We're not foolish enough to think one semester of this course can deprogram years of Hollywood bullshit. That's why we make this a daily class, that continues from K through 12.

Many of you will get very depressed in your 20s, and some of you will stay that way the rest of your lives. Over the years your garage band will break up, you career dream will fall through, a girl will break your heart, you'll be unhappy with your body, you'll lose your parents, your favorite pet will die, you will endure at least one very terrible injury that requires hospitalization and breaks new boundaries for what kind of pain you thought was possible.

And your childhood memories will be exploited to buy vast amounts of cocaine. Deal with it.

The reason why this will lead to depression, where it may not have done so for an equivalent person 200 years ago, is because you were raised on illogical stories where things always work out for the main character for utterly arbitrary reasons. Han Solo can shoot straight, but none of the bad guys can--even though they train more. John McClane beats the terrorists because he has toughness and perseverance--something the bad guys lack, even though they should be equally desperate. If a guy and a girl are right for each other, they always wind up together, careers and geography and personal hang-ups be damned.

Here's the problem: these fantasies were created by adults, as a means of escape from the real world. You, however, have been watching them since you were five--for most of us these were our first impressions of how the adult world works, even if on a subconscious level. You had no context to realize they were bullshit. It sounds frivolous, but that doesn't change the fact that some of you reading this will not survive the long process of learning how different the real world is.

If it helps, try to remember that you're still one of the one percent of humanity that was born in a time and place where there is such a thing as anesthesia.

Chapters Include:

I. You Can Die at Any Moment, Get Over It;
II. Required Reading: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy;
III. Roleplay Exercise: Various Scenes from The Road, by Cormac McCarthy;
IV. Yes, It Takes 10,000 Hours to Get Really Good at Something, But At Least You're Not Scavenging Through a Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland.

This is of course just a sampling of the curriculum at the Cracked Institute for Higher Learning. If you would like to suggest additional courses, please post them in the comments.

David Wong is a NYT bestselling author, and his long-awaited new novel is about cybernetic criminals and other futuristic shit like that. Pre-order it at Amazon, B&N, BAM!, Indiebound, iTunes, or Powell's. You can read the first five chapters for free by clicking below:

For more questionably helpful advice from David, see How the Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World or 7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable.

And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 06.18.10) to see what Internet experts have to say about being successful.

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