David Murray

Professor, Pastor, Author

What I Wish I'd Been Taught at School

My high school years were pretty disastrous – not just academically but morally and spiritually too. As I look back, I take a large part of the blame for that; I made so many wrong and foolish decisions about friends, money, relationships, media, and entertainment. I ended up leaving school one year early, and it wasn’t until my early twenties, after I was converted, that education became so important to me. A late starter, you might say.

However, I believe I can honestly say that the education system was partly to blame for my 12 year educational wilderness – with one or two exceptions, the subjects, the teachers, and the style of teaching were just so utterly boring and totally impractical.

When I look back, I can hardly believe what we wasted our time upon:

  • English books that seemed to have been chosen for maximum profanity and obscurity
  • Math teachers waffling on about weird things like sine, cos, and tan but nothing about money and personal finance
  • History courses that delved deep into a couple of insignificant events (Skara Brae anyone) but didn’t touch either of the Great Wars and gave no sense at all of an overall timeline of history.
  • Geography that studied the clouds and river bends but left us without a clue about where different countries (even our own) were located on the globe.
  • Science that was big on dry theory and tiny on the wonder of the world on the micro or macro levels.
  • Music classes where the most music we were allowed to make was with a triangle.

But what annoys me even more than what we did spend time on is what we DIDN’T spend time on. I spent thousands of hours in school and yet never learned:

Personal finance: Not even the basics of saving, mortgages, budgeting, life assurance, pensions, etc.

Time management: Not one lesson on how to plan a weekly calendar, or how to assign different work for different sized time blocks, or what times are best for what work, etc.

Organization: Filing, office management, To-do lists, and so on.

Study techniques: Not one lesson or note-taking or preparing for exams.

Public speaking: Never gave one speech in my whole school career. Never had any coaching on communication skills or making a presentation.

Reading: We were weighed down with plenty books but given no idea how to read efficiently and retentively.

Leadership: Taking initiative, delegation, mentoring, chairing meetings, were all completely untouched.

Conflict resolution: How to prevent conflicts, how to manage them, how to negotiate, how to compromise, how to confront wrong, how to reconcile? Not a clue on any of these.

Mental health: Nothing, absolutely nothing on danger signs to look out for in oneself and others, how to take preventative action, or how to recover from major crises, losses, and disappointments. I’d like to see CBT taught in every school.

Basic Housekeeping: Just the basics of how to paint, wire a plug, change a wheel, saw in a straight line, etc.

Personal Fitness: I stand in front of these machines in the gym and haven’t the first idea what to do with them. I’m still not sure I could tell you where my biceps are (or if I have any at all).

Teaching: How to teach!

When I left school, the cutting edge of technology was the Sinclair ZX81. I believe things have moved on a bit since then, making the world slightly more complicated. So today I’d also want multiple lessons on digital health.

I think things have improved somewhat in some schools over the years, but there are still huge gaps of basic practical living and vocational skills that no amount of algebra, physics, history, and psychology can make up for.

With all the inertia, vested interests, and stagnant thinking in the educational system, I know it will probably take another 40-50 years to see a more practical and useful curriculum containing some of these subjects. However, it would be great if our more passionate and innovative teachers would try to work some of these things into existing curricula.

You might end up with less people like me.

What subjects do you wish were taught at school? What subjects would you drop or reduce?


About David Murray

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He blogs at HeadHeartHand . and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidPMurray .

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