For some, school’s out forever should be school’s out for never

The start of another school year (irrespective of when that happens in your country) always makes me think that another school year must have ended.

This is rather an obvious thought, school years being so predictably cyclical, so why think it?

Because I too often encounter people who would do us all a favor if they went back to school. (Calm down. Don’t look so offended. I am writing this piece for me as well. I am aware of a number of people who think that sending me back to school would be a good idea, and I know a few who even told me so.)

However, when I remember my own school days and the product I have become, I am not so sure that sending anyone back to school would be a helpful solution.

Like any sensible-sounding solution, this one hides a lot of nonsense.

Keeping read and then decided for yourself if back-to-school is sense or nonsense.

Decent habits dressed in decent feathers will get the job

Holey jeans, tattered T-shirts and skimpy skirts — the American school uniform. I don’t like it. Not because I went to school wearing a jacket and tie, which I did (as did the girls), but because clothes ultimately do make the man or woman.

You might argue that freedom of dress stimulates individuality and creativity. More often it leads to expensive clothing accounts, morning cries of “I don’t know what to wear” and teens constantly running late looking for unsuitable garments to wear.

Even so, you might still think it cool that kids go to school looking either like slobs or celebrities. I think it cruel, not cool, and here’s why.

School is a place where habits are formed and frozen. Poor dress sense is one such habit. One carried through college to that crucial first job interview.

In a tight job market, no, in any job market, it’s not the early bird that gets the job. More often it’s the one with the decent feathers. And with decent habits.

Now, with that off my chest, let me talk about a particular bad habit that we learned in school and many of us still practice every day.

The bonus in guessing right

Have you ever wondered why people at work so seldom come up with new ideas? And why brainstorming sessions, supposedly designed to encourage creative thinking, tend to trigger the opposite?

Here’s a hint. What was your first thought at school when you were given a test or handed examination questions? I bet you that it was not the answer to the first question. More likely you asked yourself another question: “What is the right answer they expect?”

Why was that? Because school learning is based on one correct answer for every question. You either got it right or not.

You learned quickly not to think up new answers. Doing so was plain stupid, because everybody knew that a kid who had right answers was a great kid.

No wonder we have people at work who, when asked to brainstorm or be creative, immediately think “What’s the right answer my boss expects? And will that get me a good grade, I mean, good bonus?”

Time to teach your kids shades of gray

I have reached the stage of wisdom where I believe that more often than not the right answer is a shade of gray. Which is why I wish to remind you . . . I am sure that I have shared this piece with you before, because I do so like sharing it . . .

Let me start again.

As always, I wish to remind all parents to ‘teach your children well’. By well I mean what matters. Teachers cannot do that; only you can.

Teachers are paid to teach those things with known right answers. Much of what you had to learn at school you knew had one right answer. The aim of the game as taught by your teacher was for you to memorize that one right answer.

Then you left school and discovered, to your surprise, that most of the things that happen and matter in the real world do not have only one right answer. Often one answer does produce really good results, but more often many answers produce totally acceptable outcomes.

And yet, imagine the public outcry if teachers dared to deviate from black and white to ambiguity. That’s why parents matter — to teach kids shades of gray.

You are mature if you can split definite into maybe

What is the first word a baby learns? Take a guess. And the winner is the word ‘no’.

Well, maybe number one is ‘mama’, but apparently ‘no’ is near the top of first words. The word ‘yes’ comes a bit later.

Learning to say and use the words ‘no’ and ‘yes’ is a developmental phase that psychologists call ‘splitting’. It entails the splitting of mental concepts into either-or, black-and-white thinking — no versus yes, good versus bad, and so on.

Here’s the interesting bit. The word ‘maybe,’ and what it represents, only enters our understanding at around the age of five. In other words, until we turn five, we don’t think in terms of grays, of in-betweens.

It takes five years for our thinking to mature enough to allow for uncertainties and possibilities.

It seems to me that some adults can do with maturing about five years so that they can admit to maybe now and then.

Don’t waste a nonsense moment

Have you heard the one about the six-year-old Cub Scout who was so proud of his scout eating utensil that he took it to use at school? He got 45 days in a disciplinary school all because the practical tool included a little knife. (Was he prepared for that outcome? I doubt it. Not at age six.)

That is a true story from a number of years ago. Here’s another true story.

A third-grader was expelled for a year because she brought her birthday cake to school. The problem? Her sensible grandmother had packed a knife to make it easier for the teacher. What did the teacher do? She first cut the cake and then called the principal.

(What I like about this story is how it captures sensible and nonsense in one take. First cut the cake — sensible; then call the principal — nonsense.)

Both of these true stories represent wasted nonsense moments. You see, nonsense moments are opportunities for teaching and learning.

Sadly for little kids, people in charge don’t understand that. That’s why people in charge tend to turn teaching moments into punishment moments.

Please remember: Nonsense is born when places of learning frown upon common sense. And nonsense is perpetuated when YOU don’t encourage the opposite at work.

May the nonsense be with you.

Originally published at




Born in RSA winelands. Earned 3 degrees drinking red wine. Chased by lioness, ran with elephants, got bored, moved to USA seeking adventure. Ex-CEO now coach.

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James McIntosh

James McIntosh

Born in RSA winelands. Earned 3 degrees drinking red wine. Chased by lioness, ran with elephants, got bored, moved to USA seeking adventure. Ex-CEO now coach.

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