A recent public opinion poll shows that most adults feel that there were three important gaps in their education: financial literacy, public speaking, and compassion. Okay, it wasn’t a poll so much as me sending out an email to my friends asking them what they wish they’d learned in school. But still, these diverse 40-somethings were fairly consistent in their responses, and those three important life skills were mentioned most often.

As far as I can see, these friends of mine have managed to figure this stuff out. They are financially stable and emotionally intelligent grown-ups. I’m guessing that they see these things as gaps in their early education because of the difficulties they had to face in learning them.

We couldn’t really teach children financial literacy without warning them of the dangers of predatory lenders and credit card companies. And in order to help children develop compassion, we would want them to see the larger context of the unfortunate circumstances of others. Would it help to instill confidence to help children see that even bullies have weaknesses and insecurities? I guess what I’m saying is that, in the name of better preparing kids for adulthood, you’ve got to steal their innocence.

And it wouldn’t be easy to teach 4th graders or even 10th graders everything they need to know to be a financially stable, confident, emotionally intelligent adult. Not being a professional educator, I have no expertise in this area, but that won’t stop me from suggesting a few tweaks to the current curriculum:

Financial literacy: Over the course of the school year, students are given free tokens with which to buy treats (they can be healthy treats if you want). They are given the tokens frequently and without asking for them. At the end of the school year, they find out they have to pay for all the treats they bought with tokens and they have to pay much more than the treats were worth.  Students who do not see the value of the tokens and throw them away are allowed to graduate.

Public speaking: Every time students are required to give an oral report, whether it’s a book report or show-and-tell, the report is preceded by a general sharing of insecurities, fears, and most embarrassing moments. The teacher leads this discussion, but also participates in the sharing. Having established an equal footing of human frailties, the oral reports can proceed.

Compassion: Students are required to watch one reality television show each week, preferably one of those populated solely by the unlikable, the unpleasant, and the virtually unwatchable. While watching the show, they need to choose one character to explore. The class then has a discussion of the show in which each student defends the actions of the character they chose. Extra points are awarded for spotting manipulative editing choices the show’s producers made.

Kefuoe (which means gift in Sotho) was given her name while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho. Since that time, she’s lived in Kenya and Guyana, but she always comes home to New Orleans eventually. She currently lives in London, where she splits her time between supporting international women’s health programs and trying to stay warm.

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