Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
5 life skills we need to teach in school
Education shouldn't just be about preparing us for the workforce. It should prepare us for life.
- A stunning number of adults seem to be coasting by without knowledge of what many would consider extremely basic life skills.
- From financial literacy to learning how to communicate, the U.S. education system could stand to incorporate courses on the basic skills we need to navigate daily life.
- This list describes 5 life skills, why we need them in our schools, and the consequences of their absence.
In school, you learned that the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. You learned that Columbus arrived in America in 1492, and maybe you learned that he was a terrible person while he did it. You learned that force equals mass times acceleration. But you may not have learned how to communicate or how to manage your emotions. Rather, these life skills are simply hoped to become a byproduct from learning about Gatsby and why he wasn't all that great. Not everyone will grow up to become a biologist or an engineer, but everyone will need to know how to manage their finances. Here's 5 life skills that we need to start teaching directly in schools.
It's not just the secret to a happy marriage; communication skills are regularly listed among the top soft skills employers look for. What's more, you'll find that life becomes much easier once you've learned how to listen, manage conflict, and express yourself. "Many people despise conflict," wrote Dr. Carol Morgan in an article for HuffPost:
"If someone does engage in conflict, usually it's the 'knock-down-drag-out-name-calling' kind of strategy that is used. But it doesn't have to be that way. […] A much more effective way of working through conflict is by using the collaboration strategy. In this model, both parties think of themselves as a team to come up with mutually satisfying solutions. Most people usually have an 'me vs. you' attitude coupled with an 'I gotta win at all costs' demeanor. This just doesn't work."
Conflict is an inevitable part of life, and learning how to communicate effectively — say, by being taught the collaboration strategy Morgan describes — is an essential method for turning conflict into something productive rather than something destructive.
2. Financial literacy
Every year, the Federal Reserve issues its Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households. In 2017, the last available report as of this writing, 40 percent of adults reported that they could not suffer an unexpected expense of $400 without borrowing money or selling some possessions. Speaking of debt, nearly 25 percent of Americans are behind on their student loan payments. And less than 20 percent of adults feel that their retirement account is on track, assuming they even have one.
Considering the astronomical cost of college in the U.S., it's borderline criminal to ask students to take on decades-long loans when they haven't been taught what kind of impact this will have on their lives. American college graduates rarely have the financial skills required to manage regular loan payments on top of paying other bills, buying groceries, and — what amounts to a fantasy for many — saving money regularly.
Studies on the effects of attending retirement seminars show that more financial education is needed, especially for the very poor. For those among the bottom 25 percent of earners, one study showed that the money they put to retirement increased by more than 70 percent after attending a retirement seminar. Admittedly, the amount they could set aside was still small, but the magnitude of the increase showed that they hadn't accurately assessed the importance of their retirement.
3. Emotional intelligence
If you've ever seen a father blow up at the referee of their child's soccer game or watched a political debate dissolve into a contest to see who can commit the ad hominem fallacy the loudest, then you've seen the consequences of low emotional intelligence.
According to researcher John Mayer (nope, not the singer-songwriter), emotional intelligence is "the ability to carry out accurate reasoning about emotions and the ability to use emotions and emotional knowledge to enhance thought." Mayer and colleagues' research showed that higher emotional intelligence is associated with higher quality relationships, being perceived more positively by others, better academic achievement, a better sense of well-being, and a variety of other positive outcomes.
Consider how often your feelings affect your life. Clearly, emotional intelligence is a valuable skill with broad impacts on almost every domain in your life. But can it be taught? Psychologist Marc Brackett thinks so. Unfortunately, we often just assume that these skills will be acquired as a child grows up. "It's like saying that a child doesn't need to study English because she talks with her parents at home," Brackett told the New York Times. "Emotional skills are the same. A teacher might say, 'Calm down!' — but how exactly do you calm down when you're feeling anxious? Where do you learn the skills to manage those feelings?"Some schools have begun to implement curricula oriented around cultivating emotional intelligence, and the results so far seem promising. Pre-schoolers who had undergone social-emotional training were less aggressive and anxious two years after the training's conclusion. Students who had received similar training also scored higher on standardized tests, and schools that had implemented such programs saw a nearly 20 percent drop in delinquent or violent behavior.
In the United States, obesity has steadily increased over the years, to the point where the CDC found that nearly 71 percent of the population could be considered obese or overweight in 2016. The leading cause of death is heart disease, which kills 610,000 people every year. But the best cure for a condition is to prevent it from occurring at all.
Although some schools do offer nutrition education, there is no standardized method of teaching the subject, and it's often shunted into other health courses and not given the attention it deserves. Schools that do offer nutrition education see students with lower BMIs and waist circumferences, healthier eating behaviors (of course), and even improved standardized test scores. Nutrition education has been shown to be associated with improved cognitive development and fewer behavioral outbursts at school.
Previous studies have also revealed an alarming correlation: fifth graders who ate more fast food had lower math and reading scores. By implementing a consistent nutrition education plan in schools, the U.S. could gain a healthier, longer-lived, and more intelligent citizenry.
One could argue that understanding how to be a citizen doesn't qualify as a life skill — however, navigating democracy, understanding how and why to vote, and knowing the tools available to a citizen to make their voices heard can have a drastic impact on one's quality of life, especially at the local level.
Civics education is required in most states, but again, the quality and depth of these courses is lacking. The 2018 Brown Center Report on American Education found that the majority of states fail to include education on what civic participation looks like: As a result, students often remain ignorant on how citizens can engage directly with their communities. Only about a quarter of students report that they took part in debates or panel discussions, and over 70 percent of students reported that they had never been encouraged to write a letter to give an opinion or solve a problem.
Even when aspects of civics are covered in school, they are not covered well enough. A poll from the University of Pennsylvania found that Americans are distressingly ignorant of their Constitution. Thirty-seven percent could not name a single right protected by the first amendment, 33 percent couldn't name a single branch of government, and 53 percent believed that undocumented immigrants received no rights under the Constitution (every person in the U.S. has the right to due process at the very least, regardless of citizenship). Without a solid understanding of how civics works, we can't expect people to vote for their own interests, express political dissatisfaction, or realize when their local, state, or federal governments are acting outside of the norm.
Education too frequently focuses on preparing people for the workforce. While we will always need well-trained and knowledgeable mathematicians, engineers, teachers, and therapists, work is just one part of our lives. For a truly competent, intelligent, and healthy population, more attention needs to be paid to the skills that everyone needs on a daily basis.
- The new "Life skills your Parents should have taught you" Business ... ›
- Learn soft skills today: Big Think Edge ›
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
A recent study tested how well the fungi species Cladosporium sphaerospermum blocked cosmic radiation aboard the International Space Station.
- Radiation is one of the biggest threats to astronauts' safety during long-term missions.
- C. sphaerospermum is known to thrive in high-radiation environments through a process called radiosynthesis.
- The results of the study suggest that a thin layer of the fungus could serve as an effective shield against cosmic radiation for astronauts.
Shunk et al.<p>Additionally, the fungus is self-replicating, meaning astronauts would potentially be able to "grow" new radiation shielding on deep-space missions, instead of having to rely on a costly and complicated interplanetary supply chain.</p><p>Still, the researchers weren't sure whether <em>C. sphaerospermum</em> would survive on the space station. Nils J.H. Averesch, a co-author of the <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.16.205534v1.full.pdf" target="_blank">study published on the preprint server bioRxiv</a>, told <a href="https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/fungus-that-eats-radiation-could-be-cosmic-ray-shield" target="_blank">SYFY WIRE</a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"While on Earth, most sources of radiation are gamma- and/or X-rays; radiation in space and on Mars (also known as GCR or galactic cosmic radiation) is of a completely different kind and involves highly energetic particles, mostly protons. This radiation is even more destructive than X- and gamma-rays, so not even survival of the fungus on the ISS was a given."</p>
International Space Station
NASA<p>To be sure, the researchers said more research is needed, and that <em>C. sphaerospermum</em> would likely be used in combination with other radiation-shielding technology aboard spacecraft. But the findings highlight how relatively simple biotechnologies may offer outsized benefits on upcoming space missions.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Often nature has already developed blindly obvious yet surprisingly effective solutions to engineering and design problems faced as humankind evolves – C. sphaerospermum and melanin could thus prove to be invaluable in providing adequate protection of explorers on future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond," the researchers wrote.</p>
Shannon Lee shares lessons from her father in her new book, "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- Bruce Lee would have turned 80 years old on November 27, 2020. The legendary actor and martial artist's daughter, Shannon Lee, shares some of his wisdom and his philosophy on self help in a new book titled "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- In this video, Shannon shares a story of the fight that led to her father beginning a deeper philosophical journey, and how that informed his unique expression of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do.
- One lesson passed down from Bruce Lee was his use and placement of physical symbols as a way to help "cement for yourself this new way of being, or this new lesson you've learned." By working on ourselves (with the right tools), we can develop the skills necessary to rise and conquer new challenges.
How to deal with "epistemic exhaustion."