What Are the Life Skills?

At dinner one evening in the fall of her high school sophomore year my daughter Lizzie said, “The new science teacher is not a good teacher. He just isn’t teaching right. I can’t understand what he is trying to do.”

I said, “Well, you have to go talk to him, I guess.”

“I couldn’t do that.”

“Why can’t you?”

“I just can’t.”

“Well, then talk to the Dean.”

“I would never do that!”


“Dad! I don’t want to talk about it!”

The next night at dinner Lizzie said,“I talked to the Dean.”

“Great. What happened?”

“I can tell that she talked to him, because he changed, but what he did was worse. Now, I’m even more frustrated.”

“Well, now you have to go back to the Dean and give her feedback on the results.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Yes you can. It’s only…”

“Dad, I don’t want to talk about it.”

The next night she reported, again: “I did talk to the Dean, again, and she obviously talked to him again, because he changed even more, but it got even worse.”

“Wow. That’s interesting.”

“But, you know what I learned? I learned how I will be able to learn from him.”

When our children go off to school, their education occurs on two levels: 1) mastering the curriculum and 2) mastering the skills for mastering any curriculum including the curriculum of life.

I was glad that Lizzie would be learning some science that year, but I was thrilled that she had gotten at A in her lastest life skills test.

Look at what she showed she could do:

  • Turn a frustration into a problem to be solved
  • Face up to a conflict
  • Make it understandable to someone else
  • Enlist someone’s help with the problem
  • Take action
  • Observe the results
  • Adjust her thinking
  • Make a new plan
  • Implement the new plan
  • Learn from the results
  • Redefine the problem
  • Change herself in a way that will stand her in good stead until she confronts her next problem.

Having Aced Level 2, is she done? Of course, not. She will be challenged to grow her Level 2 skills in everything she does for the rest of life. The more challenges like this she can face before she graduates from high school the better her college essay will be, the better her chances of getting into a good college and (more importantly) of milking it for all it’s worth when she gets there.

Kids know that education includes a lot more than what’s on the tests, and that being with other kids is the primary reason for going to school. Working on your problem-solving skills makes you smarter whether you hone them by practicing them on other people (like uncreative teachers) or by struggling through algebra.

I hope that all of our kids continue to struggle with Level 2 issues all the way through college; for the more challenges like this they can have, the better they will do in a job interview and succeeding in that job when they get it. Their marriages will predictably be better, and they will, most likely, be better parents, too.

Many of the problems with education, today—problems ranging from personal to local to systemic to the national debate about school reform can be traced to the failure to understand that we send our children off to school to master two curricula: both the one on paper and the unwritten one, and that the latter is vastly more important than the former. Indeed the life skills curriculum provides an essential context for the one everyone is focused on, and therefore deserves to be understood as the first curriculum.

Being clear about the Level 2 curriculum would go a long way to making sure that our children were prepared for successful and fulfilling lives.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


4 thoughts on “What Are the Life Skills?

  1. I think that parents need to consider all the educational opportunities available to them and choose the one that is right for them, and homeschooling might very well be the best choice among what is available.
    There is as much variety and variation in quality of homeschooling as there is in public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, independent schools and parochial schools.
    Today’s post represents my realization that no education is “perfect” and that whatever the “school” it is important for parents to see their child as someone who–at least at first–understands that it is up to him or her to make sure that he or she gets an education from whatever the opportunity is. Parent can help enormously by not caring more about it than the child, for that could absolve the child of responsibility to educate him or herself regardless of the what opportunities and challenges are presented and regardless of the form they are presented.
    This represents a subtle shift in my thinking. If we see children as resilient, and adaptable, they will naturally tend to milk whatever is there for all it is worth, however far short it falls from the ideal.
    Parents should keep a sharp eye and ear out. It takes discernment to know the difference between complaining or groaning on the one hand and a signal that the current environment is inadequate (abusive, or barren, or hostile, or devoid of meaningful challenge) on the other.
    Does that answer your question?
    My love has been to create great schools; now I have a new love: supporting the genius in each child–humans can “crawl on their knees through the desert” and make it educational–but I must say I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it.

  2. Rick, it sounds like Lizzie had a moment of brilliance. I’d like to hear more about how she “learned how to learn” from the teacher.

  3. Very useful story and illustration … I can see where I am in my own life skills development from this, and at the same, see that most young children are already developing life skills well before starting school. You were/are a great coach for Lizzie, who took up your suggestions even after telling you she wouldnt! That also is a life skill … rethinking our first responses to our fear of confrontation (conflict, fear of loss …). Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *