Stop SignThe following 12 ideas are lessons I think we really should be teaching students to help them become healthy, sane adults. But for whatever reason, they are hard to teach and even harder to learn. How can we get these messages across to students without sounding preachy or just plain weird? Of course, some of these items will be controversial. Colleagues, administrators, parents and students may at various times disagree with the content, or even with the idea of departing from the normal curriculum. However, despite the risks, I think that students really do need to be aware of these ideas, and who else is going to broach them? The question is how…any ideas?

1. Guns are not glorious Violence is ugly, the sound and sight of violent death is terrifying. Yet the media and gaming makes it glorious, and kids (especially boys) buy it wholesale. I went through this as a young boy, and maybe it is just part of growing up. Maybe if I watched The Empire in Africa as a boy I would not have been so keen on violence.
2. Masturbation is OK It is fun, reduces stress and helps us learn about our bodies and preferences. Everyone does it, yet few talk about it, and so kids grow up feeling guilty. I know I did, and it took a long time to work out that it was not “sick” or “wrong”.
3. Your body is a wonderland You might not look like a model, but make no mistake your body is a wonderland. And you only have one. Respect it, love it for what it is, exercise to improve it, look after it. Your body will age quickly, drugs will screw it up more than you can imagine.
4. God may not exist Whether your god is a super-intelligent being, the mystic power of the universe or something else, there is a good chance it may not exist. No matter how much faith you have, we just don’t know. God may be useful, but we need to be open minded about it. And please, let’s stop killing people because their god is not your god.
5. Being gay is OK I can’t imagine growing up and being gay: the feeling of having something to hide must make the shame of masturbation feel like a walk in the park. And yet, being gay is just like being different in most any other way: it is something that should not really matter.
6. Failure is great In school we punish failure, yet teachers almost all know that we learn through failure. What we want to avoid is failure from which no lesson is extracted. Almost nothing of worth is ever created without some kind of failure preceding it.
7. Porn is not sex Pornography may be intriguing, entertaining and arousing, but it is not realistic. You might say porn is to sex what Hollywood is to everyday life: a grotesque caricature full of impossibly beautiful people. But seeing as pornography is so readily available, it is easy for boys and girls to grow up thinking it is a realistic version of sex: they are generally starved of alternative, equally rich sources of information? What happens when you grow up expecting your partner to act like a porn star? What happens when you grow up expecting to behave like a porn star. Certainly this is not how to learn the art of making love.
8. Don’t rush, it’s not a race All kids want to grow up, and kids today want to grow up faster than ever. The sad truth is that whilst adulthood brings certain freedoms, it generally takes away more. On the whole, kids are far freer than adults, and this freedom needs to be enjoyed, cherished and used to its potential. Youth is easiest to appreciate once it is gone.
9. Good grades aren’t “it” You can get good grades, and still fail miserably in the real world. At the end of the day, grades are a poor way of representing some part of a student, and certainly don’t reflect the whole. Let your students know that if they get good grades that is fantastic, but what about the things which aren’t usually tested in school? What about sense of humour, charisma, social skills, passion, creativity and all the rest?
10. School will not make you “world ready” In line with point 9. above, we do learn a lot at school, but we are certainly not ready to face the world when we leave. I am not sure we are ever “complete”, but certainly we are no where near completion at the point of exiting school, nor on leaving higher education. Students expecting this (as I did at 18 and again at 21) will be sorely disappointed when reality smacks them in the face.
11. History is important Of all the subjects I undervalued at the school, history has to be the most important. Maybe at 12 I was just too young to get it, or maybe the pitch was wrong. What I know now is that history is my personal story, and explains who I am and why I am the way I am. It teaches us how not to behave (plenty of role models there), what to expect from life, and the consequences of not sharing and getting along. What could be more important?
12. There is no “normal” The Hollywood/advertising ideal of happy, wealthy, beautiful, funny, amazing people simply does not exist in the read world. At the end of the day, we all have our flaws, and we are all different. There is no “normal”, just lots of variation. Students expecting to be happy all the time in an age of widespread depression is asking for trouble. Students need to feel comfortable being “different”, so they can talk about problems, and learn to deal with them before they escalate.

Credits: Rainbow and Stop Sign image by sandy.redding on Flickr shared under CC BY-NC-SA.