The Kids Need To Know

We have a legend in my family, a grain of truth cultured over the years into a pearl of a story, about the day my brother came home from sex education at school. He’d have been about ten, I guess, which sets this story in 1975, my mother between husbands, furiously feminist and making sure everybody knew it. I remember holding mum’s hand in the supermarket in those days, listening to her persuade strangers that if they were doing the shopping, and carrying it home, then it was their husbands and children who should bloody-well cook the stuff. Anyway, when Jonathan got home that day and said ‘We had sex education in school’, my mother, of course, quizzed him about it, just as she did with me a few years later. (Mum: ‘Anything you didn’t know already?’ Me: ‘I didn’t know men had periods too.’ Turns out I’d got confused about ejaculation.) Anyway, long story short, the next morning my mother is in my brother’s headmaster’s office, banging her fist on the table and demanding an explanation of why, at no point, not once, was the clitoris mentioned in her son’s sex education class. ‘You’re going to ruin the next generation of men too!’ she yelled. Years later when, at the slightly more appropriate age of seventeen, I confessed to my mother that I wasn’t quite sure where it was either, she nearly crashed the car trying to show me. With hand-gestures on the dashboard I mean.
About two years after that near-miss in the car, I taught myself to type. I can’t remember why. I was also learning the alphabet backwards and how to shuffle cards, I probably just saw someone doing it and decided I wanted to learn. It was a good choice. I made more money through my twenties from being able to type than I did from either of my degrees.
And the connection between the keyboard and clitoris? It’s about what we teach our children. I have to confess right now that I haven’t been in a school in thirty years, so maybe all the stuff I’m about to talk about is actually taught to kids these days.  But I doubt it. For example, are we telling kids they should never ever just pay the minimum amount mentioned on their credit card bill? My step-dad, a bank manager, taught me that at fifteen and despite all the other financial mess I ever got into, I never had a big card bill growing fat on compound interest. And do we teach kids the basics of economics, so they can understand how exchange rates, inflation and the stockmarket impact their daily lives? Do we teach them to deconstruct adverts, to see how they are being manipulated to believe in lifestyles that don’t exist by people who just want their money? Oh, and don’t start me on photoshop. Please tell me there are schools somewhere which show teenagers, with slideshows, how celebrities really look and how they look once they’ve been photoshopped into the shape we’re all supposed to be. (Mylie Cyrus has thighs! The man on the front of Men’s Health doesn’t actually look like that!).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking morality here, that’s a whole different debate. Morality is akin to religion and, next thing you know, you’ve got men and women who’ve foresworn ever having an orgasm giving out relationship advice, or looking after small children. No, I’m talking about basic practical stuff everyone needs to know. Like over-paying on your mortgage, checking ingredients before you buy, the basics of personal hygiene, what plants are growing around you, how to cook five good dinners, painting a wall, what sugar does to your body, how to cope with tough times. I’d love to hear your additions to this syllabus.
So where did you and I learn all this stuff? From our parents probably, or maybe just life. Same place we learnt to ride a bicycle, make small talk at parties, persuade petty bureaucrats to do us a favour. But isn’t that leaving it all to luck? Isn’t the point of school to give the next generation the greatest chance of success? After all, if school doesn’t teach kids about life and how to cope with it, there’s a good chance they’ll learn from TV, movies, the internet and magazines. And if that’s the case, heaven help us all.

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