Education is a beautiful thing. Everybody should go get some. But sometimes I wonder if we're overlooking some things, or whether it just didn't take early on.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant, and the computerized cash register isn't working? You try to pay the high school upperclassman or college-age clerk for your sandwich, and they just look at you like a deer in the headlights.
Say your meal cost $9.76, and you hand the clerk a $10 bill.
(Insert awkward silence here).
Now, clearly this person, who has probably passed a course in Computational Linear Algebra, Calculus II or the like with equations that would give Einstein a headache, is somehow incapable of simple subtraction in his or her head.
Eventually, you say softly, "twenty-four cents," because you don't want to embarrass this person, who no doubt has a superb education and quite possibly an IQ well in excess of your own.
They just look at you. What manner of black magic is it that this geezer has the solution to this insolvable mystery? Then they get suspicious - hey, how do I know that's right? You might be putting one over on me!
So you say it again. "Twenty-four cents. Really."
Eventually, the assistant manager is summoned, who determines that this kind of disaster is above his pay grade, and calls in the store manager, who alerts the district manager, and an antiquated calculator is produced from somewhere.
Now we've determined that indeed twenty-four cents is due. The next problem is, how in the heck do you get 24 cents out of this drawer full of round things? Is it two of the big ones and four of the little ones?
Goodness forbid you give the clerk in our example $10.76, in order to get a dollar back instead of a pocketful of junk metal. Once a common practice when consumers could add and subtract, this concept will blow an employee's mind today.
In the defense of a young clerk, money is a thoroughly outmoded concept, as antiquated and useless as cursive and leisure suits. To them, the troublemaker with the $10 bill might as well be trying to pay in raccoon skins, shiny beads and live chickens.
The concept of "change" - round bits of stamped metal that symbolize a societally agreed-upon value, really hasn't changed since ancient Rome.
Cash carries bacteria, also - really, do you want to think about the 1,100 or so people who may have had that worn $10 spot in their pants during its average lifespan of three years? And frankly, you don't want to know how many nostrils a rolled up bill has visited in the cocaine era, or how strippers store their earnings.
And coins make no sense at all - it costs taxpayers nearly two cents for the material to mint a one-cent penny, and eight cents to make a five-cent nickel. In fact, minting those two denominations of coins has resulted in a loss of far over a billion dollars since Y2K. Why do we even have pennies at this point - what could you buy with one today? Canada stopped making one-cent coins three years ago. Wouldn't life be simpler if prices were rounded off to the nearest ten cents? It would probably be helpful for our challenged clerk.
Ah yes, the clerk's eyes beg for you to produce a shiny debit card for a quick swipe. That wonderful little card that eliminates the need for all math. It basically renders money as an abstract, at least until you've overspent to the point that the bank kills it.
For the buyer, no balancing of a checkbook, no figuring of sales tax and determining if you have enough in your pocket. There's just the chasm of endless want, and instant gratification, barring stern self-restraint.
Alas, this shopper does not swipe.
Those of us raised in modest means and on three-for-a-dollar boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese are leery of such open-ended temptations. Having to pull your money out of your pocket to count out and ever-so-reluctantly hand over is a strong tool for not overspending your resources. Swiping is just too easy.
And how does one keep a coin jar on the kitchen counter for a rainy day in the age of debits and credit - fill it with little slivers of plastic cards?
Let me stress again that people are not ignorant if they can't do basic math, skills and logic in everyday life. They've been educated, perhaps just not for those particular exercises.
I can't tell you how many resumes I've read from tremendously intelligent young adults possessing in some cases master's degrees in communications and planning to be writers, who can't form a simple sentence for a cover letter.
People who have been vested with years of advanced math and computing classes are often helpless to figure their own taxes on a basic 1040-A form.
People with the finest minds teaching them economics cannot figure out how they have fallen into the traps of piling up more student loan debt than they could ever pay off, or become victims of compounding interest in the world of credit cards and payday loans.
Some schools have created classes in practical, real-world skills, and that can only be helpful.
There are some very basic things that need to be learned, either from family, schools, or the first ventures into the workplace - things we don't necessarily think of in terms of courses, but things you better have in your quiver if you'd like to be successful in life.
Manners, for one. They can take you a long way. Who teaches that?
How to interview for jobs and write a resume. We educate people presumably to work, but don't teach them how to get that job, or how to act an an interview. (BVU, to its credit, regularly brings in employers for mock job interviews with grads-to-be).
Time management. How basic is that - but yet, who teaches it?
The basics of the legal system and the law. Simple nutrition and cooking for one's self. Basic home and car repairs. How to be active in their own government. Insurance - a great many adults really don't know what they need or how it works.We may learn the principles of all these things in classrooms without ever finding out how to apply them to our own lives.
Establishing good credit. Financial responsibility. Making a household budget. Don't spend more than you can earn - it sounds so simple, but millions of very smart people never learn it.
How to write a letter that isn't in Facebook shorthand. How to have a conversation that isn't in the form of a text message.
Managing stress and anxiety without turning to an endless stream of prescription pills. How to learn from the inevitable failures in life. Morality in day to day decisions and empathy in how we treat people. Not just how to apply a condom, but how to respect a dating partner.
That's a whole lot to ask for. Teachers don't have enough days in the school year to do all that, parents may not be able to do it all either. The wise student doesn't just learn, but learns how much they have yet to learn. Then they go find what they need.
So let's start simple. With a sandwich.