I’m graduating from high school, but what has school actually prepared me for?

I will graduate high school knowing how to take the derivative of complicated logarithmic equations. I will not graduate high school knowing how to file taxes. I will graduate high school knowing which European leaders were responsible for the catastrophe that was the League of Nations. I will not graduate high school knowing how to work towards a resolution of the Syrian refugee crisis. I will graduate high school knowing the differences between a Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnet. I will not graduate high school knowing how to fix a flat tire. I will graduate high school knowing who has the best chances of playing pro ball. I will not graduate high school knowing if I have an aptitude for my chosen fields of study.

See a problem?

The American education system—public and private—has a tendency to emphasize various academic fields of study that, though helpful to a point, often become essentially unhelpful. Call me crazy, but I think it is important to hold the ability to be able to invest in your own future in high esteem. I ought to be able to graduate knowing I am prepared for at least the most basic difficulties life is guaranteed to throw at me… like filing taxes. After all, Benjamin Franklin asserted that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

I didn’t learn that quote in school, though. No, I learned it in my own independent reading, something I wish more people did more often. The more popular trend, though, is just to scoff because “there’s video games to play.” Are video games going to teach you any life lessons? Help you grow up? Learn something important? No. Try some Shakespeare. Some Bronte. Maybe some Plato. Pick up a Newsweek. If you really need to spend mind-numbing hours staring at a screen, do it when the news is on so you can recognize there are worse horrors in the world- much worse- than the poorly animated zombies running around your TV screen.

I know I’m guilty of spending a few too many hours staring at a screen some days, too, but I always try to fight my way back to reality. I know I have a tendency to slacken my quest for knowledge when I walk out of the school doors, but I never stop. I know homework makes it difficult some days; I’m well aware it’s hard to catch up on world affairs while trying to do some “wicked hard implicit differentiation,” as my Calculus teacher calls it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. If school isn’t going to provide us with what we feel is the necessary, then we have to work for it ourselves. Even if that means I give up some precious free time. Even if that means I trade in Divergent for Dante’s Inferno. Even if that means I trade in TBS for CNN. Even if that means I trade in pizza with friends for volunteering at a local food pantry.

School can only expose us to so much reality without risking censure from the school board. You’ll probably never see a class field trip to the homeless shelter. So the responsibility falls to us. Our education system can only give us the tools we need to succeed- critical thinking, literacy, mathematical capabilities- but it can’t build the whole boat for us.

Maybe, then part of the reason I can’t fix a flat is because I’ve never searched for the information. Not just because the school didn’t provide it. Perhaps it’s a crazy notion, but maybe- just maybe- we are as responsible for our education and understanding as any school administrator.