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My View: It's time for education to reflect real life

By Bob O’Connor

My 5-year-old granddaughter had been attending kindergarten for about three weeks when she announced to her mother that she was done going to school. My daughter patiently explained that everyone goes to school: “Daddy, Grandma, your aunts and uncles, even the president had to go to school.”

“But,” said my granddaughter, “Grandpa O’Connor knows everything. So why can’t I stay home and he can teach me?”

I must admit that being thought of as omniscient is flattering, especially since my four adult children are convinced that my bulb is dimming and there are precious few toys left in my attic. They joke about the fact that I once went out wearing two watches and that my socks never match. So I am spending their inheritance.

My adorable grandchild is too young to realize that her papa has the mental acuity of a cage fighter. For me, mathematics is just a distant memory and my knowledge of history and geography is melting away faster than the polar ice cap. I do sympathize with the “I don’t like school” sentiment. Everyone agrees that some of us aren’t college material. Is it possible that some of us aren’t even grammar school material?

When I was a kid, all my friends wanted to be cops, firefighters or Brooks Robinson. I wanted to be a turtle. When I was sitting in class I’d fantasize about having this giant shell and when the teacher started getting on my case, I’d climb in and hide. She would pound away on my shell, while I watched TV in my tortoise fort. I was a weird kid, but to quote Paul Simon, “My lack of education hasn’t hurt me none.” Besides, the whole edification thing is a cruel hoax.

Having lived a good 75 percent of my life, I have come to the conclusion that educated people often are not smart and some of the smartest people I’ve known were not highly educated.

I have also noticed that being intelligent doesn’t translate into being successful; temperament matters more. People who seem to be genuinely nice often are at the top of their profession: Peyton Manning, Denzel Washington, Warren Buffett and Michelle Obama, to name a few. Of course, sneaky and deceitful people also rise to the top; several hundred examples come to mind.

Then there are the lazy people. Everybody has had co-workers who do absolutely nothing – those who are so unproductive they should be charged for the heat and light they soak up. So why not train the slackers from an early age? There is real science to looking busy while goofing off.

Let’s not forget the frauds and the fakers: people with no skills, training or redeemable qualities who somehow always manage to rise to the top of every organization. Why educate these charlatans in traditional schools?

In every livelihood, there are a handful of innovators, pioneers and geniuses – the rest of us are just along for the ride. America should teach the few motivated and creative among us and let the rest bone up on the subjects we will really need to be successful.

Here are a few course suggestions for this University of Life Skills: Coffee Making 101; Arrive Late and Leave Early: A Philosophy of Life; Ingratiation: The Art of Sucking Up to the Boss; Winning the Office Football Pool: Make Big Bucks on Company Time; The Two-Hour Lunch; and Critical Thinking: A Workplace Myth.

We need to rethink the whole educational system; it should be practical and reflect real life. In fact, I’m considering offering a senior seminar at the community college: Milking Your Retirement: Let the Young Pay Your Bills.

Bob O’Connor, who lives in Hamburg, thinks what this country really needs is a University of Life Skills.
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