What I didn’t learn at school, and a couple of things I did.
I went to boarding school in the UK. It wasn’t all that bad and taught me well. Important stuff like how to read a book, to write, to wire a plug and to speak French have all been of great use throughout my life. These skills might have been more useful were I an electrician who wrote books in French, but they have been of some use nonetheless.
One of the more interesting things that school taught me was iambic pentameter.
Re-read that first paragraph again to see an impressive display of blank verse. It is of zero practical application, admittedly, but knowledge of Shakespeare’s preferred cadence will add layers to the rich and varied tapestry of your life and improve your chances of getting laid at literary festivals.
Most importantly, at school I got qualifications. Qualifications that, had I chosen to exploit, would have opened the doors to great institutions of further learning, corporate reception rooms and academic research laboratories.
Qualifications - for the most part - are important. They become less important as you get older and your breadth of experience widens. But when you’re young - and unless you’re a statistical anomaly - you’re going to get more out of your early twenties if you’ve had the benefit of school and taken your exams seriously.
You’ll get invited to job interviews, for a start. “You don’t need a job” isn’t true. You can work for yourself - and probably should try at least once - but a whole lot of folk get more value from working for other people.
For every corporate dropout that preaches “sticking it to the man” because they’ve made a million “despite leaving school with no qualifications”, there are ten thousand who left school with no qualifications and are now frying McBurgers or entering data into faceless systems and HATING their work. And all because they spent their school years “sticking it to the man”.
So take school seriously. Apply yourself. Do your sticking it to the man later. Like a delayed orgasm, it’s ultimately more satisfying.
All that said, for all I learned at school, the lessons gleaned outside of the classroom were of more use.
For example, I learned that cutting someone’s hair without their permission is technically assault. I learned how to sell five quarters of a bottle of vodka for inflated profits and I learned that the music department is the best place to pick up teachers for no-strings-attached carnal communion.
When I left school, unfortunately, there were still gaps in my knowledge. Here’s the three extra courses I would have offered:
- The price of a pair of sunglasses is directly proportional to the time it takes you to break them or lose them. Buy cheap. Buy often.
- The price of the company you keep is inversely proportional to the likelihood of your wallet being stolen. When spending money on pals, partners and prostitutes, spend heavily.
- The coolest kids at school are now frying McBurgers and hating their jobs. Embrace geekdom. It will make you rich. Cool counts for nothing the day after graduation.
- Anybody who tells you how awesome they are before you have the chance to find out for yourself, almost certainly isn’t.
- If your friends are all losers, guess what? You’re likely a loser, too. Get new friends.
- There’s more than one religion. That means there’s more than one way of wasting your time on circuitous insoluble debate and pursuit of meaning. Consider atheism and consider fallibility.
Learning never stops. But it starts at school, so study hard, young buck, and prosper.