I went to an arts high school, focusing in acting, where I received conservatory training for at least an hour and a half a day for four years and spent the rest of my time getting high. In college I got a B.A. in Theatre and almost got a minor in song writing, and I spent the rest of those years building sets, pirating media and drinking. I would never say I didn’t learn anything or that I didn’t work my ass off. I am pretty sure I can build a house now, and you imagine trying to perform Shakespeare, I mean really trying, while you have the maturity of, well, a 15 year old boy. I mean, I love Shakespeare, the man was a genius, but . . .
But in an academic sense I pretty much just dicked around for eight years. My high school was entirely based around the arts, and the academic teachers allowed the students a lot of breathing room so they could focus on their passion. And by the time I got to college, I had figured out acting was all I really wanted to do and saw no reason to care about my education. I still learned a bunch of stuff and was exposed to ideas I never had before but studying and writing arbitrary papers on topics I will forget about in a few weeks time didn’t interest me. And now here I find myself, blogging and having to do research for it.
But after eight years I realized that I was unprepared for the world because the things I really needed to learn no one taught me: Major concepts as to how the capitalist system works, what the law is and the true value of a dollar. Must you want to be accountant if you are to learn about credit, or an attorney to know the law, or some sort of auditing demon if you want to know about taxes? It’s extremely dangerous to hinge that knowledge primarily on experience and personal endeavors to learn when making a mistake in these arenas can really fuck you over in the long run. I know kids who understand Kant’s A Critique of Pure Reason, but don’t know jack about their credit score. I have friends that can create a program that analyzes driving habits in Russia and how it relates to cats in binary, but are flummoxed when it comes time to fill out their taxes. I think there should be a few classes added to the curriculum of all high schools and colleges that prepare students for what life is like outside of academia. So welcome to the University of Nic, teaching all the ways life is going to try to rape you up the ass for, God willing, the next eighty years or so.
Taxes: A Lab
In high school I had to take a college prep course. We would sit down at computers, research colleges as assignments, and then talk with the guidance counselor about it all. It was one of the most bullshit classes I had ever taken and it was mandatory. Everyone I have ever met that took one of these classes express the same feelings of absurdity and inconsequence about it. Is the class entirely useless? No. There are students who don’t know where they want to go or what they want to do, they just know they don’t want to work at a burger joint for four years while they figure it out. Some guidance is usually what these kids need.
But you know something that both the people who already know what they want and people who have yet to discover it have to do in the real world? Pay taxes. Each and every person who makes enough money to live on will have to pay taxes on that money, and it’s going to suck when they do. Once that salary hits $30,000 a year, right about the time they are starting to realize what money can buy now that they have just a little, they’re going to be hit with paying taxes they never realized were there.
Instead of a college prep course, I think that time could be better spent by teaching kids about how taxes work and what paying them is going to be like. At the beginning of they’re senior year in high school, students would sit down with the teacher and a have a brief discussion on what occupation they would like to have. Once a student has decided on what they would like to be they would have to go out and do some research on what the general salary of profession is. For example, if a student is interested in marine biology, that student looks at how much they make and then is a marine biologist for the rest of the class. Now the hard work is done and the student can go back to studying, watching reality television, ignoring their parents, taking narcotics, or whatever it is kids do nowadays for fun.
All the student has to do now on is show up once a week and sign in with the teacher. Every time a student signs in it will represent a paycheck, and it will get logged in a book. Perhaps after seeing how much money they have earned, the student wants to buy a car or a house; the teacher would mark down that the student just bought a Ferrari. This is great for the student. Oh look! I have money! Let’s use it.
This is how the class will go for most of the year, and frankly not a whole lot will be learned. That’s because it will be during tax season that the lesson really begins. Once April rolls around, the student will sit back down with the teacher and will go over the numbers. Any items bought over the year will now be deducted from the earned income, and then the teacher and the student will fill out taxes using that final number and discover what the student owes the government, and oh how I suspect the student’s mouth will drop. If someone had done this for me I would have created a savings account in junior high specifically to use to pay off the fucking IRS. It won’t cover all the odds and ends, nor will the class cover tax policy in the government. But it will introduce them to it, give them a basic knowledge of the practice and that will make a difference.
Look, I know full-fledged adults that don’t understand credit. It’s amazing to me that there aren’t classes for everyone everywhere in this country on a fundamental principle that our entire system revolves around. I see a bunch of people my age using credit cards like they’re monopoly money. Does anyone else see a problem with kids thinking there is a big bin of invisible money somewhere that is infinite and without restriction? They are ruining their futures without even realizing it.
And it’s not enough to say that the parents are covering them. This isn’t about how much money you have, it’s about how much money the system will give you. Kids need to know that bad credit can keep you from getting a car, a house, a job. And they need to know that bad credit is better than no credit at all. Like how politicians don’t give a shit about a citizen until they can vote, the financial system doesn’t care about you until you have credit. This means having a credit card under your name and not going crazy-go-nuts with it. It means having a steady job for a prolonged period of time. It means starting to think about your future in a very grim and unfun way. But it’s important, important enough to have an entire mandatory class about it in college. The more that young people going into the world realize that financial responsibility to oneself should have started the first time they found a dime in the street, the better.
Law and Power
I think a general course teaching kids not just the laws of their state and country but also how to research and learn about the law is important. How many of us break the law without ever realizing it? Talk to any policeman and they will state, “It doesn’t matter if you knew the law or not. You break it, you’re going in.” Let’s see if we can have kids learn that from a classroom instead of from the arresting officer. This should also include a close look at the Constitution. Knowledge truly is power, and knowing your rights as a citizen and the liberties granted to you gives you tremendous power. Not always in practice because the police don’t always follow the law, but in principle. This country was founded on principles and as Americans, either by birth or by choice, understanding how our laws and liberties are related to those principles is the truest patriotic practice. Sometimes we must educate ourselves for the good of ourselves. I’m going to show that picture of the iron again because I just realized that I am proposing a class that teaches not everything can, or should, be learned in a classroom.
So there it is: Taxes, Credit, Law. This is what I would make sure every student learned before getting a diploma. But these arejust the lessons I had to learn the hard way, and there are probably dozens of other subjects that kids should know. What would you teach?