What are the basic skills and knowledge any eighteen-year-old American should have? What do you need to know in order to function, even at a minimal level, as an independent human being in the United States? A first list, in no particular order of importance.
1. Fluent in the English language, both the written and spoken forms. What's the point in being a genius if you can't tell anyone about it, or send them a letter?
2. Math abilities up through algebra and basic bookkeeping. The basics of numbers and their awful tyranny over us.
3. Basic knowledge of World History. Who did what to whom and when, and why they did it. Understand why the Chinese government is so afraid of new religious movements.
4. Basic knowledge of American History. Did George Washington fight in World War II? How the knowledge of a little American history could free us from fear and empower our democracy.
5. Basic knowledge of World and American geography. If you don't know where you are, aren't you lost?
6. How to read a map. Find yourself.
7. Fundamentals of electricity. Don't plug that into a wall socket. If you do, you'll be sorry.
8. Basic auto repair, especially emergency repairs. It's midnight on a lonely stretch of road and the psycho killer's just waiting to do you in. Get that car started!
9. Basic computer skills: word processing, maintenance, spread sheets, internet applications. Duh.
10. The ability to swim. Someday, you and water will meet.
11. Self-defense training, especially for women. There are people out there, right now, who want to hurt you.
12. A knowledge of personal hygiene. Do I have to explain this? Skip bathing for a month and see what happens.
13. Fundamentals of cooking. Fast-food carry-out is not cooking.
14. Garment care: especially emergency repairs like sewing on buttons and repairing rips. Everything breaks eventually. Most likely it will break at the most inopportune time.
15. Basics of civility. Proper dining manners, politeness, no itching the crotch in the presence of others. Avoid getting punched in the eye. People will invite you to parties.
16. How to drive a car. Absolutely necessary, except in New York City. Since 292 million Americans don't live in New York, learn how to drive!
17. Safety skills, covering machines, cars, anticrime (don't walk down that alley), everyday hazards. You'll lose a finger if you don't.
18. How the US government works on every level, local, state, and the feds. Its structure and its faults. Who to trust, who not to, and where to complain.
19. Fundamentals of health care. No smoking (put out that butt!), physical fitness, diet, first aid, the human body, human sexuality (plus all the nasty STDs).
20. Fundamentals of science, all the usual suspects: biology (including Mr. Darwin), geology, physics, chemistry, astronomy. Ignorance is never cute.
21. Fundamentals of religion: religions of the World, tenets of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, varieties of Christianity, a brief history of religion, and the separation of church and state. See inside the human heart.
22. How to open a checking account. How to manage personal finances. How not to go broke or spend all your money on chewing gum.
23. Basic job skills. Show up on time, you slacker!
a. A second language. Expand the number of people you can insult.
b. The fundamentals of trig, statistics, and calculus. The tyrants of Mathematics command and you must obey.
c. The operation of construction equipment. Renting a backhoe is more fun if you know how to use it.
d. Advanced martial arts study. Kick everyone's ass.
e. The fundamentals of computer science and programming. Again, duh.
f. The fundamentals of environmental science, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Learn how it works before breaking it.
g. Construction skills. Why should professional carpenters, plumbers, and brick layers have all the fun?
h. Fabrication skills. Know how things work by building them yourself.
Optional College Prep Add-ons
a. Extensive training in computer use. Yet again, duh.
b. Advanced writing skills. Unless you can get your girlfriend to write your thesis for you.
c. Research techniques. See b.
d. Advanced science training. Impress friends. Get a good job. Keep from falling off the edge of the world.