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6 Things I Wish I Had Learned in Public School

Updated on January 2, 2017
American Flag
American Flag | Source

George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, the three branches of government. Checks and balances.

It seems that was all they ever taught us in history class. Every year, I sat there like an idiot, yawning while my teachers forced me to make finger puppets of Thomas Jefferson and recite letters written by John Adams.

Now, I can already foresee a comments-feud, so here's my disclaimer: I love the United States. I love the landscapes, the cultures, and I do believe you can find good cheese here if you know where to look. I am also fascinated to learn about the cultural and political beginnings of the US.

Still, here's what I wish I had learned in public school:

A globe displaying Europe and Africa is a rare image to find.
A globe displaying Europe and Africa is a rare image to find. | Source

1. The World Does Not Revolve Around "America"

Well, ok, it sort of does. By that I mean that the United States is the one country that almost everyone, save for a few communities, has heard of . The majority of the most uneducated and isolated people across the world have heard about the United States, and every major newspaper follows it.

However, it is not the only nation out there, something that I had to learn on my own. There was a tendency in my school to label something as "International " or "World ", and then hand students a syllabus that only included the U.S. and the countries that directly border the US, or that directly laid the foundations for U.S. culture, such as England.

Who wrote this curriculum? The intense focus on the U.S. and "Western" nations misleads many bright and capable students to believe that there is little to learn outside of our borders.

2. "America" is not a Country

It drives me crazy when someone uses the word "America" to mean "United States". When I was a high school student, I was frustrated to find that not only did teachers fail to correct students when they made this mistake, but they often made the mistake themselves! I have heard people from other countries use this misnomer as well.

The United States of America is a country. America is a region comprised of two continents (or one, depending on where you went to school). South Americans are Americans. Canadians are Americans. Mexicans are Americans. Please, college-bound students: wrap your mind around this before you start bragging about your International Relations degree.

A typical school. Not all schools look like this, either!
A typical school. Not all schools look like this, either! | Source

3. Other Countries Are Not Always Like Those "Save the Children" Commercials You See On Late Night T.V.

When I was 8, family members from Italy visited me, and came to my third grade class to talk to the students about their country. The kids asked all sorts of ridiculous questions, like, "In Italy, is there electricity?" Of course, you can't blame the children for what society never taught them. However, you can see what they had absorbed from their culture.

The trend continued into high school. Some students were surprised to learn that my Chilean household was equipped with a washer and dryer, and that my Italian family members had modern conveniences like cell phones. Of course, not all students were so ignorant. The ones who weren't had taken the initiative to educate themselves, or had been lucky enough to be born into a family that encouraged them to explore their interest in other countries. For the ones who weren't, however, the school system did little to aid them in their education.

4. Geography

Period. I wish we had learned about geography so that I would not have to sit through the embarassment of having my boyfriend explain to my countrymen where his home, Ecuador, is. I'm not saying you should be able to find it on a blank map, but for the love of God, at least have an idea of what continent its on.

5. Foreign Languages

Ok, I understand why my compatriots have slacked off here. Thanks to Great Britain, English is numero uno right now, and it looks like it is staying that way for a long time. Also, this great country of ours is so huge that until five or ten years ago, you could drive for days without encountering another language.

But I believe that people are finally starting to recognize that the world is changing. Learn a foreign language because it shows humility. It shows that you recognize that we are no longer defined so much by our national borders. It shows that you are aware that there is something rich and beautiful about taking a walk in another person's shoes, delving into another's mind, and understanding how others see the world.

6. Personal Finance

It still baffles me why this isn't covered more in depth! My school did not have the option to take any sort of personal finance or home economics class. The first year that I had to file taxes, my parents had to walk me through every step of the process. When I went to buy my first car, I was totally clueless. Down payment? Interest rates? It was enough to make my head explode. Managing a personal budget, savings, taxes, and retirement is something that most Americans are forced to learn "on the job", which may explain why so many Americans are in debt or not prepared for emergencies or retirement. Public schools should give our young citizens lessons in financial basics.

College Student
College Student | Source

So, where is my rant headed?

This lack of basic instruction sets public school students back. Students from other areas of the world that are more internationally-minded may speak 3 languages by the time they are 18, and may have in-depth knowledge of history, current events, and geography of the world when they graduate from high school.

In fact, the number one complaint that I hear from foreignors who visit the United States is not that we are loud or rude, but that we are generally ignorant of the rest of the world. Many people have told me that while they find people from the U.S. to be friendly and polite, they are constantly irritated when people have never heard of the country they come from. Unfortunately, this often translates into people from the U.S. being seen as stupid. When we look back on what we learned in public school, we realize that what is seen as stupidity is actually ignorance. That's another lesson I didn't learn in school.

Tell me what you think

What do you think education in the US should change?

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    • graceomalley profile image

      graceomalley 4 years ago

      I wish school had taught me to balance a checkbook. I got math up to calculus, but my husband had to explain the checkbook to me.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I wish I would have focused on math and history a little more than what I did. It was during my middle school years that I lacked interest in these subjects. I also had teachers who were there for a paycheck and little else -- guess that didn't help.

    • KT Banks profile image

      KT Banks 4 years ago from Texas

      Great hub, and really good points made here. It takes my thoughts in at least two different directions.

      Education is too repetitive in so many areas, and there is so much that they leave out. I would really love to see more real life applications taught.

      I had a really narrow view of the USA too, until I dated a man from another country in my early twenties. I was naively shocked back then to realize that the rest of the world didn't always see us as the "good guys."

      Thanks for getting this subject started. I hope it gives everyone a fresh look.

    • FreezeFrame34 profile image

      FreezeFrame34 4 years ago from Charleston SC

      Very nicely stated. There's a lot that I didn't learn until I was the one doing the teaching!

    • stephaniedas profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Das 4 years ago from Miami, US

      @graceomalley- You're probably right, that should be on the list! I learned how to balance a checkbook when I was 11. By the time I ordered my own checks, needless to say, I had no memory of how to even fill them out. Thanks for the input.

      @teaches12345- I agree, a teacher whose heart isn't in it really communicates that to the students. I also wish I'd focused on math more. When I began to work as a teaching assistant, I had to teach myself really fast.

      @KT Banks- I think that just about everyone has to go through that realization at some point. It isn't about pointing fingers or getting snobby, it is just realizing that history classes leave a lot of the bad stuff out when they teach students. Thanks for sharing your take on it.

      @FreezeFrame- Wow, teaching gives you another perspective on education, entirely! I've been a tutor and a teaching assistant, and it's tough. Thanks for the compiment.

    • profile image

      whowas 4 years ago

      I'm horrified by the poverty of education that you describe.

      However, I am not surprised. It explains a great deal. It is true that most people in Europe have a very low opinion - based sadly entirely on experience - of the attitude and ignorance that so many of your countrymen show. It doesn't do the States any favors on the world scene.

      However, you cannot be alone in broadening your education independently and seeking to gain a less skewed perspective on the realities of the situation. At least I hope not.

    • onlinekam profile image

      Muhammad Umer 4 years ago from Karachi Pakistan

      i think public school is not for best for any student.

    • stephaniedas profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Das 4 years ago from Miami, US

      @whowas- I'm certainly not alone. I know of many highly intelligent students who just seem to soak up information easily, and I also know many average-intelligence people (myself included) who take it upon themselves to learn about the world simply out of interest. I can understand why this attitude of ignorance developed, as the United States is the world's current superpower, and thanks to Great Britain, English is the global language. Also, there is very little linguistic diversity on our continent, as opposed to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, where there is a very high amount of diversity. Hopefully, as the world changes, the attitudes about what is important to teach students will change as well. Thanks for commenting :)

      @onlinekam- You may be right. I did know some people who thrived in that environment, but a lot of students, myself included, would have benefited from an alternative form of education. After all, public school developed to what it is today based on models from Napoleon and Hitler-era education. Thanks for commenting.

    • mauricio.quito profile image

      mauricio.quito 4 years ago from everywhere

      This is true... I would say public education needs to get better at teaching geography.

      A University of Maryland senior student asked me if my home country (Ecuador) was in Mexico! wow!

    • stephaniedas profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Das 4 years ago from Miami, US

      @mauricio.quito- Wow, that is eye-opening! I totally agree. Sorry that happened to you...I'm sure that senior was embarrassed. Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image

      IntegrityYes 4 years ago

      I voted up for sure. COO!

    • onlinekam profile image

      Muhammad Umer 4 years ago from Karachi Pakistan

      i don't agree with you man

    • profile image

      DMC 4 years ago

      Public education in America isn't the greatest that's for sure, but it's not that bad all over America. I learned before I even reached high school that the world doesn't revolve around America, America is not a country, and the general geography of the world. They even started offering foreign languages in middle school where I lived.

    • onlinekam profile image

      Muhammad Umer 4 years ago from Karachi Pakistan

      No Please go wrong way my means is Sharp child is gaining good result for any education system.

    • stephaniedas profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Das 4 years ago from Miami, US

      @integrityYes- Thanks for reading and voting!

      @onlinekam- That's cool, thanks for commenting. What are your thoughts on the issues?

      @DMC- You are lucky to have had a great education system. Perhaps I'm generalizing too much. There certainly are plenty of US students who are knowledgeable about the world outside our borders. Unfortunately, my school was not very good at teaching those subjects.

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