4 Lessons We Really Wanted To Be Taught In School
My name's Daniel, and I wrote a history book a little while ago for children called Your Presidential Fantasy Dream Team (available everywhere books are sold, or free if you're a very clever thief and you happen to know someone else who bought it).
Individual people (of all ages!) like it so far, but it's been worrying some schools and libraries because it is nothing close to what a standard textbook (or kids' book) looks like. Which is actually amazing to me, because the whole reason I wanted to do the book in the first place was to give kids the kind of information that I desperately wanted as a kid but never got in school.
Also, I get a real thrill thinking about those sexy librarians just hating
me and my big dangerous book.
I think teachers are great, I think teaching is hard, and I think everyone is doing their best, but in the process of writing a "schoolbook that could never exist in a school," I started thinking about all of the OTHER things I wish had been different about my education. I'm thankful for my education and everything that happened to get me where I am today, because I'm happy, but, all that said ... I do have some notes about the lessons I wish I'd learned throughout school ...
All The Best Stuff Is In The Other Books
[DISCLAIMER: I want to be clear -- a lot of great novels are on the required reading list in most public schools, and most of those books ARE great, and at least one of them is not only great but also gatsby, and you SHOULD read them. I'm not trying to broadly condemn every book that has ever been required reading in school. OK. End of disclaimer.]
Here are two of the best things that have ever happened to me, and I can't even take any damned credit for them because they were both completely out of my control:
1) My parents happened to keep a lot of books in our house.
2) I happened to really, really love reading.
My parents didn't force reading on me or anything like that; I just took to it. I really liked reading and felt weird anytime I wasn't reading at least one book. I read whatever we had to read for school while reading Goosebumps and Animorphs on the side, and then, as I got older, Stephen King and then Kurt Vonnegut and Christopher Moore and then Junot Diaz and then George Saunders, and I'd go from novels to plays to nonfiction and on and on to all of the authors I missed and all the ones I hadn't found yet. This is the giant catch-all for what I'm calling "Further Reading." And I'm thankful that reading became as natural to me as eating and sleeping and all of the other things I can't go a day without. Because that's where all the best stuff is, because none of the best stuff lives in textbooks.
And as you get older, you have to pay out the nose to read just as much nothing.
Even if your school assigns a hilarious and subversive book like Catch-22, it's going to be hard for you to really fall in love with it, because you're not thinking, "Let's check out this book!" You're thinking, "Shit, I have to read three chapters by Wednesday and there's gonna be a quiz about it." School puts reading three chapters of an amazing book in the same mental category of memorizing history dates and trying to crack calculus problems. That is, hands down, the worst fucking thing to ever happen to novels.
High school turns reading -- a thing people do on the beach on vacation -- into homework -- a thing kids dread because it takes them away from whatever they'd rather be doing.
The way we teach history is totally bonkers too. High school and a history textbook taught me Grover Cleveland was our only president to serve two non-consecutive terms -- the other books taught me that he staged a secret mouth surgery at sea over a 4th of July weekend so the American people wouldn't find out that he had cancer.
What's cooler, honestly? That, or "I lost my job and four years later got it back"?
High school and a syllabus taught me I needed to "get the right answers" on my Of Mice And Men quiz or else I'd be a failure. It's not important as far as the class is concerned if I wept when I finished the book; what matters is what this book says about Great Depression-era literature. (I, uh ... think?)
High school and a history textbook taught me Teddy Roosevelt was a president and made sure I remembered that he formed his own party called the Bull-Moose Party.
The best stuff was always in another book or another article or another conversation. Committing the date that America declared its independence to memory (July 4th, Nine Eleven) will never be what gets a kid excited about history; it just gets a kid with a good memory an A on a test. Why do you think everyone on the planet is obsessed with Hamilton right now? It makes history interesting, funny, sexy, rebellious, and it barely has to lie about anything to do it.
They totally held Congressional meetings while posing that way. They did.
I mean, Cracked is essentially a celebration of the further reading to everything, every day. We're a site that was born out of a staunch belief that your teachers and parents have been conspiring to keep the most interesting information away from you, for reasons that have never been clear to me. The chief reason I wrote my children's book was to teach kids as early as possible that history and our big stupid world can be fun and funny and unbelievable and more exciting than just a compilation of dates and classic milestones (which, again, is why I've learned that schools/libraries hate it).
"Yea yea yea yea yea, you hate that book so much. Let's talk all about it."
Sex Ed Is Hot Garbage
Let's get real.
Here is an actual text conversation, from 2016, that I had with a woman I've known for 18 years:
I know where it is now, though.
After this chat, I went on to ask all of my male friends the same question, and every single one of them was exactly wrong about the placement of the vagina in exactly the same way, except one who says it was totally where he expected it to be, and I think we can all agree that he's probably a liar.
Here's the thing -- I didn't miss or sleep through sex ed. We had it in school and I paid attention and there were tests and I'm certain I got straight A's, and the first time I'd encountered a vagina in the wild I was still very surprised indeed! Nothing was where it was supposed to be, according to my imagination, so I just made an on-the-fly decision to adjust and roll with these perplexing new developments and made a mental note to maybe later politely ask the girl, "Hey, just checking, but have I been wrong about where the vagina was supposed to be or -- level with me -- is there a chance that just yours is off?" (Fortunately, I never asked that question, which would have been a horrible thing for me to ask of another young person who was also self-conscious and inexperienced sexually. Unfortunately, I still forgot to bring up this initial misconception to anyone else, to find if I was alone in this mistake for the rest of my life.)
I'll throw some MORE stuff at you. My mom was a school nurse for a different school, and she was in charge of teaching sex ed there. She wasn't pushy about the subject or anything, but it was clear that if I had any questions, she was a professional expert on the subject and wouldn't mind telling me anything I needed to know about sex. "You've already taught me so much," he thought, remembering fondly the fact that his room had its own TV with HBO.
"You've already taught me so-" Oh, I already used that joke in the actual body of the article? Weird, it feels like
such a "caption" joke. Oh well, then I guess I just don't have anything for the caption here.
It seemed like I had every opportunity to be an expert. If you're heading into a hurricane on some kind of vagina-rescue mission, and you need someone who can spot one from a mile out, you theoretically want someone with my training. So, how does someone with access to a sex-ed teacher, a professional sex-ed-teaching parent, and HBO's Real Sex still get caught off guard by his first actual vagina? And not just me but every guy I've ever talked to except that one liar?
It's bad when some dude with a mullet and raincoat fetish is a sex god compared to you.
It's because we're terrible at talking about sex in this country. It's because everything I learned about sex in school was taught to me by a gym teacher who clearly just wanted to get it over with. We were allowed to ask questions, sure, but what confused 14-year-old wants to ask a sex question, out loud, in a room full of his peers, and to a teacher who insisted we call him "Coach"?
For the record, my question probably would have been, "Hi, I'm 14 and I'm, like, constantly horny and furious and I sort of hate my body for the first time ever and it seemed like a week ago my biggest concern was 'What if we run out of corn dogs at lunch before I get there,' and now my chief concern is 'What if I'm weird at sex forever and everyone knows,' and I was wondering if there was any way we could go back to the corn dog life and also I don't know if it goes without saying or not so I'm just going to say it: I am horny and furious right this second. Please help?"
The worst thing about corn dogs in a post-corn-dog life is that a corn dog is no longer just a corn dog.
I wasn't going to ask that question, and not just because the fucking soccer coach we hired to teach kids about sex said abstinence is the only true path and that the only authority we should acknowledge is God. (Hi, my name's Daniel, and this has been "Public School In The '90s.") I wasn't going to ask that question, because I didn't know how to.
At 14, kids learning about sex have nothing BUT questions -- we just don't have the vocabulary to ask them or an environment that suggests in any way that our dumbest questions ("I saw an episode of Real Sex where a man dressed as a baby in a barn and got yelled at and whipped by his wife until they both reached orgasm; is all sex terrifying?") would be taken seriously.
"Is whatever this guy's about to do with that head normal or the worst thing ever?
I need to know now, not later at Macy's."
And I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but if Coach Soccer brought out a mannequin and made our final exam "Point to the vagina," literally everyone in our class would have failed. But he didn't, so we all passed, and I'm really, really sorry, All Women.
Socialization Is Everything
I'm wrong about almost everything, especially when I make big, bold generalizations, so take what I say next with a grain of "shut up, Daniel": I think basic socialization is the most valuable thing you can learn in school.
To be clear -- for the purposes of this article, "socialization" is my handy shorthand for "being a decent person to be around." I think it's the most important thing to come from school, and it's fully insane to me that it's never explicitly said or formally taught. It's practically an agreed-upon side effect of going to high school. You're just tossed in a school full of other tiny, horny maniacs with a stated mission of learning about science, literature, history, where the vagina isn't, and dodgeball, and you're just sort of expected to "get" socialization.
Especially when dodgeball is clearly anti-socialization and pro-concussion.
Socialization is important because it equates to survival just about everywhere. Being able to function socially with new people is important. I know there are asocial or antisocial geniuses and inventors and athletes who have thrived because history tells me that there are, but I'd caution everyone about using the few exciting exceptions who buck the trend to justify their own antisocial behavior, as tempting as that might be. At the end of the day, being able to function socially gets you friends, gets you jobs, gets you dates, and makes life easier.
To be clear, I'm not saying anyone who struggles with anxiety or social awkwardness can't make it in the world, or that they're bad in any way. I mean, doing so would be insane and contradictory for a person who has written often and openly about the many reasons that the world can be a nightmare for a socially awkward guy like me. I'm saying that basic socialization might be the most important key to life, and schools need to get much, much better at teaching it -- by which I mean, they should at the very least acknowledge its importance.
"Raise your hand if you can say hi to the kid next to you without drowning in your own sweat."
I knew a bunch of people in high school, but I took a special kind of pride in the fact that me and my small group of close friends were kind of weird and offbeat. I never seemed to really click with the most popular kids in school (who were generally good with girls [or guys] and so well-liked by the teachers that class was easier for them), and I kind of liked that because I assumed those kids were just posturing, putting up some kind of front. "I'm GLAD those popular kids don't like me," High School Daniel thought, "because that means I'm an individual and I follow my own path and I can't be put in a box and I will be a virgin for a pretty surprising amount of time. Haw haw!"
I bet some of those kids are CEOs now.
It's tough to refuse to be put in a box if that's all you can afford to live in.
See, socialization isn't just about making friends. I know that developing social skills is important because I'm in a position where I can hire people to work with, and if there are multiple, equally qualified talents as there very often will be, the answer to the question of "Who is the best person for this position?" shifts to "Who will I want to be around every day?"
In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey says it plainly and simply: "Don't hire anyone you wouldn't want to run into in the hallway at 3 in the morning."
And, to be clear, the takeaway from all of this shouldn't be, "Act like the popular kids: Lie and change who you are to get ahead." I don't think any of those well-socialized people were liars or fakers -- they were just kids who knew that life was slightly easier if you weren't an asshole and knew how to talk to people.
To this day, I have no idea how/why I learned how to be "better" socially. I barely even know how I made friends in college. My best guess? I wore vests a lot, so I'm pretty sure most of my friends were people who only waved to me because they thought I was a waiter or valet attendant and then were just too polite to correct me when the first words out of my mouth were, "We are best friends now?"
"I will accept a 10 percent tip in exchange for hanging out and general existence-acknowledgment."
At some point, I figured it out and it led me to every job and promotion I've ever had, but I didn't learn how to do it in school. And that's insane.
And it reminds me ...
Here's How To Interview For A Job
It's unfortunate that we only make movies about rebellious game-changers like Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs or Stephanie "Mop" Joy in Joy (I haven't seen that movie). We make movies about the risk-taking geniuses who bend the rules to great success. They say "Screw the system" and "This whole damn courtroom is out of order" and "If you think brooms are tight, you are going to shit your brain once you get a load of my mop! My name is Jooooooooy, mothafuckaaaaaas!"
"Joooy to the World, mop mop, fuuuck you."
All of our movie heroes are rebels and individuals who when told, "You can't do that," responded with, "Watch me," followed by a lifetime of success. What about a movie about an ambitious guy who works hard, is always prepared, follows a standard path to success, and then gets to change whatever system he's in from within? It's a much more boring movie than Steve Jobs or any other movie where our hero just can't play by the rules and wins despite all the doubters and haters, but it's much, much more useful.
And not nearly as boring as that other Steve Jobs movie.
If you're applying for a job right now, here's something uncomfortable that I'd like you to hear: There are a lot of people applying for that same job, and the person going through every resume and cover letter is looking for a reason to throw your resume out. You can't blame them -- they have a shitload of things to read, and for most jobs, a hiring manager doesn't get extra points for hiring a good candidate DESPITE their bad resume and inability to interview well.
"That accountant that shat himself when you asked about his references didn't
bankrupt us on his first day. Enjoy your bonus."
Here's one of the most common types of messages that come into the Cracked General Inbox every day (yes, I read all of them!):
"Yo Cracked, I love your site, I think I'd be a great fit for you, but get this, I don't really 'work' with the whole 'list' thing. My style is more like this in-your-face like big personality type humor, like everything I do is funny because I'M the one saying it. I'm funny 'cause I just say the shit that everyone's THINKING but no one's willing to say, and I just have all these IDEAS and I think if you paid me to just spill my white-hot HATE-ORADE all over your site it would do TONS of traffic, I just don't really do the 'Cracked thing,' ya know? Hire me, it's a big mistake if you don't!"
That's an actual message we received about four years ago. I saved it because a) it was the clearest example of the kind of message we get a lot and b) Honestly? I just really liked the phrase "white-hot HATE-ORADE."
"It's just a sodium-free Gatorade, because the haters provide all the salt."
Since this person was essentially applying to write for us, we can call that his cover letter. We did not hire this person.
The freelancers who stick out to me, the ones we've eventually gone on to hire, are the ones who early on demonstrated a clear understanding of the Cracked voice, responded to feedback well, and in general weren't assholes (see previous entry).
The thing is, if Mr. Hate-orade back there would have gone into our Workshop and demonstrated an understanding of what we are looking for and consistently executed on articles and scripts that reflected Cracked's voice, we would have noticed and we would have hired him. And then we would have said, "OK, NOW give us your weird, outside-the-box stuff."
In an interview, your job isn't to break the rules or change the system; your job is to get the job. You can do whatever you want when you get the job, you just have to make sure you get it first. I'm sure someone could attend a seminar or go to a special workshop specifically about writing resumes or cover letters or "How To Interview," but holy shit, why isn't every high school in America automatically including that in their curricula? Every student has to take four years of history and science, but there's no mandate to teach kids a class that would essentially be titled "This Is How To Get A Job"? What the fuck, right?
Daniel O'Brien is the Creative Director of Video for Cracked and author of Your Presidential Fantasy Dream Team and How To Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against The Badasses Who Ran This Country and maybe one day a book that isn't about presidents. He also has an infrequently updated newsletter/reading list that you can subscribe to right here.
What's The Best Fictional School To Attend? In the muggle world, we're not given the opportunity for a magical hat to tell us which school we should go to. Usually we just have to go to the high school closest to where we live or whatever college accepts our SAT scores and personal essay. This month, our goal is to determine what would be the best fictional school to go to. Join Jack, Daniel, and the rest of the Cracked staff, along with comedians Brandie Posey and Steven Wilber, as they figure out if it's a realistic school like Degrassi or West Beverly High, or an institution from a fantasy world like Hogwarts with its ghosts and dementors, or Bayside High, haunted by a monster known only to humans as Screech. Get your tickets here!
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