I saw a meme on Facebook last night that was, according to the results of a fast Google search, a shortened version of a 2007 book called 50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School, Real-World Antidotes to Feel-Good Education, by conservative columnist and radio host Charlie Sykes. The meme listed only 11 rules, probably because, like most Facebook memes, somebody shortened it for quick and easy digestion. Whoever shortened it also got the source wrong; it said, “Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a high school about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school.” So it could be that these 11 rules are in no way like any of the 50 rules in Sykes’ book. If so, I offer my apologies to Charlie until I get the time to read his book and compare it to the meme. Until then, though, I couldn’t stop myself from responding to the 11 rules that supposedly nobody will ever learn in school:
Rule 1: Life is not fair – get used to it!
Way to inspire people, Charlie! This is a great way to start a list of “rules” you want everyone everywhere to learn and live by. Who wouldn’t look at a rule like DON’T EXPECT FAIRNESS and not feel a surge of hope for the future and a desire to go on, besides practically everybody?
Strictly speaking, though, Charlie got it wrong. Life is absolutely fair. Life makes no judgments at all. If Life were biased and took into consideration how you lived, then people who dedicated their lives to helping others would all live long and happy lives while wicked, selfish people would perish horribly of pestilence and rot. It doesn’t work that way, though. There is nothing more impartial than Life. You’re born, you live, you die, and you get the same chance to do good or bad with your life as anybody else. Totally fair.
If, on the other hand, Charlie’s talking about whether or not you get a fair shake in human society, and I suspect he is, that’s all about how people treat one another, which is a part of life, but not all of it. Maybe that’s what Charlie meant: People will not treat you fairly. It’s not entirely wrong, but “life isn’t fair – get used to it” seems like one hell of a cynical take on that message.
I would suggest an alternative to Rule 1: Be fair with people, always. They may not always be fair to you in return, but it’s the right thing to do, and at least you’re bringing some fairness into the world.
Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Charlie’s first two rules are DON’T EXPECT FAIRNESS and NOBODY CARES WHETHER YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF. I don’t know Charlie, but if I had to form an opinion of him based on these two rules, I’d have to say he seems like kind of a cynical person. I hope he eventually got a friend or a dog or somebody who was nice to him.
I think I get the direction Charlie’s going in: I think maybe he’s saying that doing good work leads you to feel good about yourself. If he had said that and only that, I would have to agree with him. However, Charlie might also be saying you don’t deserve to feel good about yourself until you do good work. He didn’t say that exactly, but that’s how it sounds to me after “the world won’t care about your self-esteem.”
The idea that people do not care whether or not you respect yourself is, frankly, bullshit. That’s not my experience at all, and I doubt it’s Charlie’s experience, either. I think Charlie probably knows as well as I do that people will judge you harshly if you hate yourself. People expect you to hold yourself in high regard. People care very much about your self-esteem.
And this is just my opinion, but caring about other people’s feelings, whether those feelings are joy or anguish or anywhere in between, is a big part of being a decent person. My Rule # 2 would be: Bring some compassion into the world in whatever way you can, small or large.
Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.
This is a bald-faced lie. Some people WILL make 60K or more right out of high school. Some will already be unbelievably rich BEFORE they start high school, or junior high, or grade school. That’s just a fact.
I’m guessing Charlie didn’t make 60K out of high school and, for some reason, he doesn’t want anybody else to show him up by thinking they will.
Here’s my rule # 3: Don’t listen to anybody who tells you what you will or won’t do. In all likelihood, people who dump shit like this on you are grouchy curmudgeons who are still pissed they weren’t making 60K their first year out of high school.
Also: “car phone” – LOL!
Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.
“Wait until you get a boss” sounds like another way of saying “if the boss you get is anything like the boss I got, he will make you more miserable than your teacher ever did.”
I didn’t think my teachers were tough. I’m not even sure what Charlie means by “tough.” I thought most of my teachers were pretty great. Some were boring, a few were jerks, but most of them were good at inspiring me to do good work, challenging me to do better work, and expecting me to do my best. That’s not “tough.” That’s nothing more than you would do for a good friend. I’m not saying your teacher or your boss has to be your friend to be good; I’m saying a good teacher or a good boss will know how to inspire you. A “tough” boss will just order you to do it.
Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.
There are so many things wrong with this “rule.”
First of all, flipping burgers is one of the most satisfying activities I can think of. Standing in my back yard, beer in one hand, spatula in the other, and relishing the thought of the delicious meal to come: I can’t think of a more relaxing way to unwind at the end of a hectic day in the office.
I suspect, however, that Charlie penned this “rule” with the intent to point a finger of shame at “kids these days” who shun the drudgery of minimum-wage jobs. Assuming that is the case, I submit that flipping burgers for minimum wage – and it will ALWAYS be for minimum wage – is not always the opportunity he makes it out to be. If you have the great good fortune to move on to a better job from flipping burgers, then sure, opportunity; but if you’re flipping burgers because there are no other jobs available to you, you stand no chance of advancement, and you have no prospect of moving up to a job that would be better than living paycheck-to-paycheck, that’s not opportunity, and it doesn’t leave much room for dignity.
And finally, comparing what my grandparents thought of as opportunity to what my children face in the job market is hardly fair. My grandparents weathered the depression. My parents grew up during a world war. There were no opportunities then, there was only survival.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
I’m in the awkward position of having to agree with this rule on a technicality, because “learn from your mistakes” is good advice. So is “don’t whine.” If Charlie had said, “If you mess up, don’t whine about it; learn from your mistakes,” I’d stand one-hundred percent in agreement with him, but the oddly specific don’t-blame-your-parents vibe gives me the feeling maybe Charlie made some parenting choices that resulted in more pushback from his kids than he thought he’d get.
I disagree with this rule on principal because it’s wrong. Parents do lots of things that directly result in kids making mistakes. Just one example: Parents who hit their kids makes some of the kids think hitting kids is okay. If kids make that mistake, it’s definitely their parents’ fault.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
YOUR PARENTS ARE BORING BECAUSE OF ALL THEY DID FOR YOU! THINK YOU’RE COOL? YOU’RE NOT! YOU’RE JUST A LOUSY KID.
I hate this “rule” so much. The clunky metaphor in the last line is bad enough, but the way Charlie turned raising kids into a huge guilt trip ought to be a hanging offense.
First of all, any bills that parents paid were never the kids’ bills. They were the parents’ bills. Kids don’t rack up bills and they don’t owe parents the money it cost to raise them. When parents brings kids into the world, it’s entirely the parents’ duty to feed, clothe, and shelter their kids without any conditions. There is no bargain, no “okay, I’ll do this, but only if you pay me back later.” Parents pay the bills because it’s their duty as parents! And because it’s their duty, they don’t hang it over the heads of their kids ever.
And listening to kids is not a chore! Washing their clothes is, but again, that’s what parents do, and kids don’t owe parents anything for it. Listening to kids hatching their plans is also what parents are supposed to do. Listen to them and talk with them; help them develop those ideas. Do it with enthusiasm. If you act like it’s a chore, you’re doing it wrong.
Finally, at some point all kids start to act like they’re too cool for their parents. That’s how they let their parents know they’re getting ready to hit the road. Good parents recognize this and don’t sneer at their kids because of it.
So if your parents are boring now, chances are excellent they were always boring. If you know for a fact they used to be interesting but now they’re boring, well, sometimes people decline cognitively. That’s certainly not anybody’s fault but Mother Nature’s.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
There is so much wrong with Rule #8. The idea that there have to be losers, for starters. You don’t have to make everything a competition to feel good about yourself. If you do, I won’t be your loser just because we both want the same thing.
I don’t know how I feel about grades, but I’m all for giving kids as many chances as they need to get the right answer. That’s called learning from mistakes, which Charlie championed in rule # 6. What’s it matter how many times they do it, so long as they get it right? Why should kids get a limited number of chances to get the right answer and be labeled a loser if they don’t? That doesn’t even make sense.
As far as school bearing any resemblance to real life: Well of course it doesn’t. School is supposed to be the place where kids get all the chances they need to get the right answer before they have to go face “real life.” It’s supposed to be a place to practice for what comes after. (Whether it is or not is an entirely different rant.)
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.
What the hell does that even mean, “life is not divided into semesters?” I suppose Charlie doesn’t divide his life into weeks, either, or spend the occasional weekend in front of the television drinking beer and watching the football game, or whatever he does for fun.
As far as “finding yourself” is concerned, I don’t even want my employer messing with my personal life. If my boss tried to give me personal advice, I’d politely tell him to mind his own goddamn business and let me get back to work.
Here’s my rule # 9: People who don’t take time off from their jobs now and then are considered workaholics who end up guzzling Maalox straight out of the bottle to control their acid reflux.
Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
I don’t know when these rules were written but I suspect it was before people started hovering over their laptops in coffee shops all day, making money. Kids, you may disregard rule # 10. It’s another bald-faced lie.
Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.
Either Charlie’s a nerd and this is a warning that he’s looking forward to revenge for all the times he was pantsed, or Charlie’s not a nerd and this is a warning he’s passing along after a boss or two of his got revenge on him for pantsing them back in grade school.
Either way, I thought you were supposed to be nice to others because that’s how you would like others to behave towards you. (I’m not sure if the Golden Rule applies to people who like it when others pick a fight with them.) You’re a total shitheel if the only way to get you to be nice to people is to warn you you might end up working for a person you used to treat like shit.