How High School Preps You for Trivia But Not for Real Life
“On becoming an adult, one thing has stuck out to me as a huge oversight in the high school system is that we never learnt about tax. […] I'm not even talking about the logistics of filing tax returns, but on what taxes are, the different types of tax, and how they work.”
— Teaching Tax in School, Herman Martinus
I agree with Herman.
High school taught me a few things about the mating rituals of fruit flies, but nothing about taxes or how the system we live in works.
I had tangential thoughts to that since moving to the US a decade ago:
- No one taught me, at home or school, what compound interest is, what savings are, or how the whole market thing works.
- This simple knowledge alone would have helped a lot to navigate the weird systems we live in.
- I noticed that kids from wealthy families learn about some of this stuff from childhood, kind of a “How to Stay Rich 101.”
- My family never talked about it: They were probably just as lost.
I'm not advocating for a system over another: They all seem the same at the core, with different emphasis on who is in control (state vs. private vs. whatever) and varying degrees of freedom of expression.
It would have been nice if high schools handed out as much as a booklet about how some of these games work.
Even a pamphlet with a few lines:
- Compound Interest: It's the magic spell that makes money grow while you sleep.
- Malthusian Traps and Races to the Bottom: Sound like medieval torture devices, but they're just about population and food.
- Purpose of Taxes: Not just to make you cry every April.
- Money: You give up your life's energy, and receive made-up credits that lose value over time. Unless you're rich, then see “compound interest” above.
- The Market: A thing that people pretend to know how it works, but no one does—especially economists.
This is just about pragmatic system knowledge: God forbid high school prepped you for esoteric things like “healthy relationships,” “growing older,” or “death.”
For all the 20-30-40-somethings reading: if these terms sound Greek to you, it is time to do a bit of research.
For those leaving it to school, John Mulaney summarized it nicely:
“I read that this week, over two days, the Dow Jones dropped 929 points! And I can't tell you how frustrating it is to not know what that means.”
— John Mulaney