Four Things Students Should Have Learned in School but Didn’t

Here are four more of Dr. De Mars 55 things I have learned in (almost) 55 years, and that is that there are four thing students should have learned in school but often didn’t.

1. Say what you mean. I don’t know who those teachers are who reinforce students for using longer words, longer sentences and writing more pages but I hope someone finds them and beats them senseless with The Elements of Style , which nearly a century after it was first published I still think is one of the best books on writing out there. When you write,

In the experiment under discussion we utilized two conditions in the manner such that one group of the subjects referred to in the preceding paragraph received no treatment, that is, they were what is referenced as the control group. The other group, that is the second group, which was the group receiving our treatment described in the section under procedures which follows is hereafter referred to as the treatment group. A treatment group is defined by Academic-Guy (2012) as …

instead of,

Subjects were randomly assigned to either a treatment or control group.

You may think the first example makes you sound intelligent and well-educated but it doesn’t. It makes you sound like you learned English by watching the Power Puff Girls and imitating Mojo Jojo. People – clients, your boss – are busy, and grant applications have page limits.

2. Don’t be a pain in the ass. I wrote a post about this, Why the cool kids won’t hang out with you. In brief, no matter how smart you are, if you constantly run down your co-workers, flaunt the policies of your organization and are rude to your boss, at some point they will replace you with an equally smart person who is less of a pain. This may sound hypocritical because if you have been reading this blog for long you are well aware that I swear, don’t do mornings and, if I have to wear a suit, I charge extra. However, I work with clients that are cool with that.

Really points 1 & 2 generally reveal a person trying to prove that he or she is smarter than the other people in the room. That usually reflects an underlying insecurity. I have met some absolutely brilliant scientists and businessmen/women. None felt the need to try to impress me. I was already impressed when I met them, and I’m sure that was the reaction they got from almost everyone.

3. Mean what you say. If you say you will be in the office at 8 a.m., be in the office at 8. I tell clients I will be in by 9:30 or 10 if necessary because I know there is no way on God’s earth I am dragging myself out of bed at 7 a.m. It’s not happening. On the other hand, they know that if I say I will be in by 10, I will. If you say you can write programs in Perl or are experienced creating multi-media PowerPoint presentations, then when I ask you to do that, you should be able to do it. [I don’t really need anyone to do either so if you are applying for our summer intern position, you don’t need to mention these. It was just an example.]

child at computer

4. Learn to code. It doesn’t matter what language. It’s absolute bullshit that once you know one programming language you know them all, but it is certainly true that once you have the idea of loops, arrays, properties, methods, classes, extend, functions and a few dozen other key concepts, it will be much easier for you to pick up a second, third or fourth programming language. The Perfect Jennifer is an amazingly great history teacher and she is in one of the minority of fields where you can not do any programming and have a decent, stable job. Did I mention she is amazingly great, and works an enormous amount of extra hours? However, if you are planning on going into consulting, management or a large number of other fields, knowing how to code will help you immensely. Even our Chief Marketing Officer, who only focuses on marketing, has done a little coding and has some idea of the constraints of developing a new product. I’m so convinced of the personal and professional value of learning at least a little bit of programming that I have gone back to requiring it in my statistics courses. Often students don’t learn to code because they underestimate themselves. They believe programming is done by people who are smarter, more focused or in some way better than them. That’s simply not true and learning to code will give them both more skills and more confidence.

So, those are four more things I have learned in (almost) 55 years and that I think any student graduating should learn as well.



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  1. I agree. Unfortunately for us, however, children are educated based on the needs of the economy not the needs of the children themselves. The aspects of curriculum that don’t make sense regarding the goal of learning begin to make sense when one understands education from this perspective. Why do teachers not make an effort to help their students understand the material on the tests and simply go over the correct and incorrect answers? Simple: part of the goal of schooling is to sift people into the bad jobs that very few people would work if they had another option to.

  2. Dr.D, THEY are considering doing away with penmanship (remember those lessons?), i.e writing, because THEY say all kids use computers so why bother learning to write? What’s your take?

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