It is obvious that our schools are in crisis.  I meet college graduates who are utterly incapable of writing a grammatically correct paragraph.  Some of it is so bad that it fails to convey any meaning other than that the author can’t write. Those responsible for education appear blissfully unaware that the vast majority of their students will be either knowledge workers or welfare bums, and that as teachers it is their responsibility to help them achieve the former.

The British school system is going mad.  According to, they’ve decided that primary school students need to study Twitter and blogs more than history and science.  Presumably they will de-emphasize geography as well.  Sure they try to make it appear progressive and balanced, but it’s obviously not.  Most of the world pokes fun at the USA for graduating illiterates who can’t locate their closest allies on a map, but know ten different short forms for sending ‘I love you’ on their mobile phones.  I guess the UK wants to join that prestigious club.

But maybe there’s another reason. Maybe it’s easier to park kids in front of a classroom computer than actually teach.  Maybe Twitter really is a good idea.  After all, these kids will need something to keep them busy while they sit at home unemployed. Or while they ignore teachers who are so uninspiring that they best serve as treatment for insomnia.  Shame on these so-called educators.  Shame on them for failing to prepare our children to be successful.

On the off chance that youth find their way to this Web site, here’s my message to them:

I know, when I was young, that I ignored most of the advice that old people — anyone over about 20 — offered.  Since most of you will ignore me anyway, I’ll get right to the point as a courtesy to those who choose to read:  School systems are setting you up to fail. You must demand more and you must find alternate ways to obtain the knowledge and skills you require to be successful.

You must learn to read and comprehend what you are reading, preferably quickly. Your future income will depend upon your ability to rapidly acquire knowledge.  The world is changing fast and, to survive, you must continuously learn at least until you retire.

You must learn to write effectively.  You require the ability to express yourself and communicate complex concepts to a wide variety of audiences.  The pen (or keyboard) is far more powerful than a sword (or a gun). You must understand the difference between writing a 140 character tweet, a resumé for a potential employer, an email to your boss and a formal report for a client.  You must learn more than we old folks did, not less.

I have bad news for you.  Despite what some of your teachers are telling you, spelling and grammar always count.  As unfair as it may seem, you will be judged on your writing. You may be more intelligent and incredibly talented but, if you write poorly, you may not get a chance to demonstrate those abilities.

You must learn math. You ring up $4.56 and I hand you a ten and six pennies. If you need a machine to tell you to give me a five and two quarters back you might be working in that coffee shop for a very long time. It may be boring to you now and I apologize for the uninspiring physical education teacher you might get stuck with for math but, please, find a way to learn. Do it for yourself. I have never heard anyone with a good job complain that they wasted time learning math. I’ve never seen a manager disadvantaged by being able to understand financial models. But I’ve seen countless people who need a machine to do basic math who were working a cash register into retirement.

And, finally, you must learn to work effectively with others. Learn to understand others who are like you and others who are different. People who are smarter than you and people who are not. Take the time to understand how they see the world and why. Learn to negotiate win-win solutions. Learn how to bring value to relationships of all kinds. Learn how to tell when someone is lying to you. And, as cruel and unfair as it may be, learn to deal effectively with the endless stream of morons you will encounter throughout your entire life. Some will be your classmates, colleagues, bosses and teachers. Perhaps even your parents. Avoidance is often not an option. And remember that, to some people, or on some days, it’s you who might be the moron. Accept it and learn to deal with it now.

Students, many of your teachers are failing you.  If you want proof, start asking every successful person you meet what skills you need to succeed. Then learn to read, write, do math and work effectively with others.

And to those educators who fail to teach these necessities — shame on you! You’re not worthy of the position with which society has entrusted you. You belong in jail — for robbing young people of their futures.

2 Responses to UK educators fail

  1. Evolving Squid
    Mar 27, 2009

    I don’t know anyone who’s offered stuff for sale: 25 cents each or three for a dollar.

    Math is your friend. Without math, how can you tell if the deal the car salesman is offering you on that lease is good? How can you tell if your variable-rate mortgage is going to be better than a fixed rate? How can you know if the 500g bag of skittles at $6.99 is not really as good a deal as the 200g bag at $2.75? How can you figure out that driving 10 km to save a penny a litre on gas is actually wasteful and costs more money than you’ll save?

    So, too, is English useful. In grade 12, I was having my usual, daily argument with the teacher about how useless the class was and how I’d never use this crap because I was not going to be a writer.

    Well, I guess he got the last laugh. I went into an engineering field, and what do I do? I write long reports all the time. In retrospect, I’m glad I took English (even if I still think all that poetry was a waste of time).

    And to reiterate a point for any young person who has taken the time to read this far:

    I often review CVs for potential hires. If there is any “txt spk” on a CV, I stop reading immediately and the CV goes into the rubbish bin. If there is one, or maybe if there are two typos, I might let it slide with a note to inquire during the interview about the quality of the applicant’s work and their attention to detail.

    Typos are not the same as spelling errors though. “Teh” instead of “the” is a typo. “Sekyooritee” instead of “security” is a spelling error. Make a spelling error in text relating to the core job you’re applying for and your CV is immediately tossed in the bin. Make a spelling error in the cover letter and your CV gets tossed.

    CVs that are emailed are not exempt from this treatment. With an emailed CV I still expect a well written “cover” email that is subject to even pickier rules – it’s email, you can spell check it online, so typos and spelling errors are verboten. The existence of email does not reduce the formality of communication.

    Am I a jerk, by “young person” standards, for this approach? Probably. But I don’t care, and in 20 years, neither will you. Why? Because when you’re handed a stack of CVs to whittle down to the best 3 candidates to interview, you use every possible method to shortcut that process. When a person writes a CV, they’re selling themselves. As the buyer, if your sales pitch is crap, I won’t be interested… EVEN IF YOU TRULY HAVE THE BEST PRODUCT. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking cars (Edsel), or job applicants.

  2. Maggie James
    Mar 27, 2009

    Dear Squid:

    Great comment, and very timely, considering how many people are faced with updating their CVs these days and hitting the job hunt trail.

    You should be writing a regular column for us! 🙂

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