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What school doesn t teach you?

School provides foundational knowledge and skills that allow us to function in society. However, there are many important life lessons and practical skills that are not formally taught in traditional education. Though curriculum varies, most standard schooling focuses heavily on academic topics like math, science, history and literature. While mastery of these subjects is important, there are gaps in the standard curriculum when it comes to some of the most essential knowledge needed to thrive in life.

Personal Finance

Managing money wisely is a critical life skill, yet most schools do not offer in-depth education on personal finance topics. Some of the most important lessons that students miss out on include:

  • Budgeting – How to track income and expenses, live below your means, and save money each month.
  • Banking – Choosing checking and savings accounts, managing accounts online, understanding loans and credit.
  • Investing – Learning about different investment vehicles like stocks, bonds, mutual funds and real estate to grow wealth.
  • Taxes – How to file taxes, knowledge of different tax forms and deductions, and strategies to reduce tax liability.
  • Insurance – Navigating health, auto, renters, life and other common insurance options.
  • Identity Theft/Fraud protection – Safeguarding personal information and recognizing scams.
  • Consumer skills – Making informed purchasing decisions, avoiding unnecessary fees, maximizing value.

Without formal education on personal finance, many young adults struggle to manage money wisely. This can lead to poor financial decisions, unmanageable debt, and financial insecurity later in life. Personal finance should be a core part of education to set students up for financial success.

Physical and Mental Health

Health is one of the most vital elements of a happy, successful life. But many schools provide little instruction on health and wellness fundamentals. Here are some of the key health-related areas where education often falls short:

  • Nutrition – How to eat a balanced, healthy diet to properly fuel the body and mind.
  • Exercise and fitness – Understanding exercise benefits and how to create an effective fitness routine.
  • Stress management – Developing resilience, healthy coping strategies for anxiety and depression.
  • Sleep habits – Prioritizing sleep and maintaining optimal sleep hygiene.
  • Reproductive health – Learning about safe sex, contraception, consent, healthy relationships and more.
  • Mental health – Detecting warning signs of mental health issues like eating disorders, addiction, self-harm and suicidal ideation.
  • Digital wellbeing – Setting healthy limits on technology and social media usage.
  • Preventative care – Understanding recommended health screenings, vaccines and checkups.

Without a basic foundation in health, students enter adulthood lacking the knowledge to make wise choices that support their physical and mental wellbeing. Teaching health principles should be a priority to equip students with self-care skills for life.

Communication and People Skills

Human connection and quality relationships provide meaning and happiness to our lives. But building strong interpersonal skills does not come naturally to everyone and schools often fail to teach important lessons in this area. Communication and relationship gaps many students face include:

  • Active listening – Paying full attention to understand others without judgment.
  • Assertive communication – Articulating wants and needs clearly and respectfully.
  • Conflict resolution – Navigating disagreements rationally and fairly to find common ground.
  • Empathy – Recognizing and relating to other perspectives and emotions.
  • Collaboration – Cooperating successfully in groups and teams.
  • Social intelligence – Understanding subtle cues in conversations and relationships.
  • Networking – Developing rapport and mutually beneficial connections.

Mastering “soft skills” is vital for connecting with others, building strong relationships, and getting ahead professionally. But many students lack instruction in this critical area and struggle with interpersonal challenges well into adulthood.

Practical Life Skills

In addition to academic and interpersonal lessons, there are many practical life skills that are useful in daily life but not formally taught in school. Some examples include:

  • Time management – Using time effectively, avoiding procrastination.
  • Organization – Keeping spaces, objects and information orderly and accessible.
  • Goal setting – Envisioning aims and taking actionable steps to achieve them.
  • Problem solving – Analyzing issues rationally, generating solutions.
  • Decision making – Weighing alternatives and understanding opportunity costs when choosing.
  • Self-discipline – Regulating behavior consistently despite fluctuating motivation.
  • Self-care – Attending to basic needs like hygiene, living conditions and medical care.
  • Household maintenance – Performing basic home repairs, auto maintenance, yardwork, etc.
  • Cooking fundamentals – Safely preparing nutritious everyday meals.
  • Cleaning – Effectively yet efficiently maintaining tidy homes and workspaces.

Though not academic pursuits, these practical talents allow people to function successfully in life. Those lacking sufficient self-discipline, goal setting abilities, organizational skills or basic domestic competencies often struggle unnecessarily. Teaching these practical life literacies merits more attention in education.

Career Skills

A good education should equip us for career success. But many students graduate without some of the essential professional abilities employers seek. Common career skill gaps include:

  • Job search strategies – Writing resumes and cover letters, networking, interviewing successfully.
  • Work ethic – Being disciplined, motivated, responsible and professional.
  • Time management – Handling multiple projects and priorities efficiently.
  • Critical thinking – Logically analyzing issues and making sound decisions.
  • Teamwork – Cooperating with colleagues and resolving conflicts.
  • Leadership – Taking initiative, directing and inspiring others.
  • Creativity – Imagining innovative solutions and new opportunities.
  • Public speaking – Communicating effectively to large audiences.
  • Sales abilities – Building rapport, presenting persuasive pitches.
  • Technical skills – Using job-specific tools and technology.

Core academic knowledge alone is insufficient to be an attractive job candidate or excel professionally. Schools should expand career prep programs to hone the real-world skills that drive employability and success.

Civics and Government

A well-informed populace is essential for maintaining a strong democracy. But many citizens lack robust understanding of how government functions and key civic responsibilities like voting. Areas where civics education falls short include:

  • Community service – Contributing time and talents to aid others and improve society.
  • Media literacy – Recognizing bias, fact checking sources, avoiding manipulation by misinformation.
  • Legal rights and justice system knowledge – Understanding laws, your rights, how to access legal resources.
  • Political processes – Navigating branches and levels of government, elections, voting, and civic participation.
  • Societal analysis – Recognizing and addressing structural inequality and systemic failings.
  • Global awareness – Understanding significant international issues and events.
  • Sustainability and environmental stewardship – Living responsibly to protect natural resources.

Robust civics education is vital for raising engaged citizens who contribute ethically and intelligently to improving society. But many schools fall short on these lessons, underserving students and democracy itself.

Creativity and Design

Innovation and creativity are increasingly valuable across all fields, driving improvements in business, technology, culture and more. But schools often focus more on left-brained academic analysis than nurturing creative talent. Areas where creative education lags include:

  • Visual arts – Drawing, painting, photography, graphic design.
  • Performance arts – Music, drama, spoken word, dance.
  • Writing – Fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction.
  • Handicrafts – Sewing, carpentry, knitting, jewelry making, soap making.
  • Culinary arts – Cooking techniques, plate presentation, food styling.
  • Problem finding – Identifying issues and opportunities ripe for innovative solutions.
  • Ideation – Brainstorming new ideas and concepts without judgment.
  • Design thinking – Creating human-centered solutions tailored to market needs.

Nurturing creativity should be central in education to drive innovation, self-expression and fulfillment. But many students never find their creative spark without sufficient opportunities in school.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence allows us to manage emotions skillfully, empathize with others, and interact positively. But lessons nurturing EQ are scarce in mainstream academics. Skills like:

  • Self-awareness – Recognizing your emotions, reactions, strengths and growth areas.
  • Self-regulation – Handling feelings and impulses responsibly.
  • Motivation – Pursuing goals with discipline despite setbacks.
  • Resilience – Bouncing back from frustrations and failures.
  • Mindfulness – Staying present and focused despite stress.
  • Reflection – Analyzing your actions, choices and experiences for insights.
  • Delayed gratification – Postponing rewards for greater subsequent benefits.
  • Gratitude – Appreciating what you have to enjoy life more fully.

Though rarely taught formally, mastering these skills maximizes happiness, health and success. Emotional intelligence merits far more attention in schools.


While academics provide an essential foundation, there are clearly many vital lessons absent in standard education. Teaching only traditional academic subjects leaves major gaps in the life skills and practical knowledge students need. The emphasis in schools should evolve to fully prepare students for all elements of a successful life. Society as a whole would benefit from citizens equipped not just with academic smarts, but with financial savvy, health literacy, people skills, professional abilities, civic engagement, creativity and emotional intelligence.