In 1998, Robert Fulgnum wrote a book called “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten”. Its premise is that we overcomplicate life and that if we all simply follow a short list of rules, we’ll be okay and the world will be a far better place for it. They’re simple, they’re catchy, and they’re things we usually forget as we get older and we make our lives more and more complex. The book simplified into its core lessons as listed in the credo at the front of the book is shown in the excerpt below:
All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.
These are the things I learned:
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don’t hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
- Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
- Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
- Take a nap every afternoon.
- When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
- Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
- Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we.
- And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all—the whole world—had cookies and milk at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.
And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
Things would be amazing were it kept this simple! But we grow. We change and our worlds change with us. And while we subtly change as we get farther away from those kindergarten years, if you’re looking for the place where those changes are most pronounced, you needn’t look any farther than high school.
All That’s Wrong With the World, I Learned in High School
High school is a totally different world to anything most kids have encountered before—a lot of kids have it particularly hard in those 4 or 5 years (though as adults we often trivialize this). Maybe it’s the hormones. Maybe it’s because in those years, it’s most kids’ first brush with any sort of responsibility. But for all sakes and purposes, high school is a whole new ball game.
Further proof that the lessons we learn in high school might not be the best for us lies in the types of incidents that come out of high school — teenagers find themselves at the first point in their lives where they have the mental and physical capacity to act as adults do, but without the years of experience that come with being an adult. High school is usually the first time we come across things like sex, drugs and a sense of identity. Other things simply become more pronounced, like bullying, ostracism and a class system. You’re stuck in general population with the same people for 4 or more years, and whatever strengths and weaknesses you brought in with you only get more pronounced as the familiarity grows among your peers. The lessons I think we learn from high school look a little like this:
- Do for self before you do for anyone else—the world revolves around YOU, after all
- Nice guys finish last
- If you can’t stand up for yourself, the world will chew you up and spit you out
- However much you mess up, someone else will be there to bail you out
- If you’re going to take something, make sure it’s someone weaker than you
- You know what’s good for you, but the bad stuff is cheaper, tastes better and is easier to get
- Anything can be done at the last minute, that is, if it’s worth doing at all
- Lessons are the right time for naps and goofing off—you’re above lessons, and they won’t matter to you later in life, anyway
- It’s a dog-eat-dog world and every man for themselves
- You’re invincible—consequences are something your parents only bring up when they’re mad at you
Take any one of those items and put it into everyday adult life, and you start to see the archetypes of all the things going wrong around you. The reason why we turn a blind eye to homelessness, poverty and general bad manners. Why we opt to take care of self-interests rather than those of society as a whole. Kindergarten was all fine and dandy, but it’s a long road between there and the working world. It’s possible that we need to rethink the lessons that we teach those younger than us and what people will grow to become if led down the wrong road for too long.
Perhaps it’s time to go back to building blocks and crayons, because we all know that meeting notes and pens just aren’t as fun.