My name’s Daniel, and I wrote a history book a little while ago for children called Your Presidential Fantasy Dream Team (available everywhere books are sold, or free if you’re a very clever thief and you happen to know someone else who bought it).
Individual people (of all ages!) like it so far, but it’s been worrying some schools and libraries because it is nothing close to what a standard textbook (or kids’ book) looks like. Which is actually amazing to me, because the whole reason I wanted to do the book in the first place was to give kids the kind of information that I desperately wanted as a kid but never got in school.
Also, I get a real thrill thinking about those sexy librarians just hating
me and my big dangerous book.
I think teachers are great, I think teaching is hard, and I think everyone is doing their best, but in the process of writing a “schoolbook that could never exist in a school,” I started thinking about all of the OTHER things I wish had been different about my education. I’m thankful for my education and everything that happened to get me where I am today, because I’m happy, but, all that said … I do have some notes about the lessons I wish I’d learned throughout school …
#4. All The Best Stuff Is In The Other Books
[DISCLAIMER: I want to be clear — a lot of great novels are on the required reading list in most public schools, and most of those books ARE great, and at least one of them is not only great but also gatsby, and you SHOULD read them. I’m not trying to broadly condemn every book that has ever been required reading in school. OK. End of disclaimer.]
Here are two of the best things that have ever happened to me, and I can’t even take any damned credit for them because they were both completely out of my control:
1) My parents happened to keep a lot of books in our house.
2) I happened to really, really love reading.
My parents didn’t force reading on me or anything like that; I just took to it. I really liked reading and felt weird anytime I wasn’t reading at least one book. I read whatever we had to read for school while reading Goosebumps and Animorphs on the side, and then, as I got older, Stephen King and then Kurt Vonnegut and Christopher Moore and then Junot Diaz and then George Saunders, and I’d go from novels to plays to nonfiction and on and on to all of the authors I missed and all the ones I hadn’t found yet. This is the giant catch-all for what I’m calling “Further Reading.” And I’m thankful that reading became as natural to me as eating and sleeping and all of the other things I can’t go a day without. Because that’s where all the best stuff is, because none of the best stuff lives in textbooks.
And as you get older, you have to pay out the nose to read just as much nothing.
Even if your school assigns a hilarious and subversive book like Catch-22, it’s going to be hard for you to really fall in love with it, because you’re not thinking, “Let’s check out this book!” You’re thinking, “Shit, I have to read three chapters by Wednesday and there’s gonna be a quiz about it.” School puts reading three chapters of an amazing book in the same mental category of memorizing history dates and trying to crack calculus problems. That is, hands down, the worst fucking thing to ever happen to novels.
High school turns reading — a thing people do on the beach on vacation — into homework — a thing kids dread because it takes them away from whatever they’d rather be doing.
The way we teach history is totally bonkers too. High school and a history textbook taught me Grover Cleveland was our only president to serve two non-consecutive terms — the other books taught me that he staged a secret mouth surgery at sea over a 4th of July weekend so the American people wouldn’t find out that he had cancer.
What’s cooler, honestly? That, or “I lost my job and four years later got it back”?
High school and a syllabus taught me I needed to “get the right answers” on my Of Mice And Men quiz or else I’d be a failure. It’s not important as far as the class is concerned if I wept when I finished the book; what matters is what this book says about Great Depression-era literature. (I, uh … think?)
High school and a history textbook taught me Teddy Roosevelt was a president and made sure I remembered that he formed his own party called the Bull-Moose Party.
The best stuff was always in another book or another article or another conversation. Committing the date that America declared its independence to memory (July 4th, Nine Eleven) will never be what gets a kid excited about history; it just gets a kid with a good memory an A on a test. Why do you think everyone on the planet is obsessed with Hamilton right now? It makes history interesting, funny, sexy, rebellious, and it barely has to lie about anything to do it.
They totally held Congressional meetings while posing that way. They did.
I mean, Cracked is essentially a celebration of the further reading to everything, every day. We’re a site that was born out of a staunch belief that your teachers and parents have been conspiring to keep the most interesting information away from you, for reasons that have never been clear to me. The chief reason I wrote my children’s book was to teach kids as early as possible that history and our big stupid world can be fun and funny and unbelievable and more exciting than just a compilation of dates and classic milestones (which, again, is why I’ve learned that schools/libraries hate it).
“Yea yea yea yea yea, you hate that book so much. Let’s talk all about it.”
#3. Sex Ed Is Hot Garbage
Let’s get real.
Here is an actual text conversation, from 2016, that I had with a woman I’ve known for 18 years:
I know where it is now, though.
After this chat, I went on to ask all of my male friends the same question, and every single one of them was exactly wrong about the placement of the vagina in exactly the same way, except one who says it was totally where he expected it to be, and I think we can all agree that he’s probably a liar.
Here’s the thing — I didn’t miss or sleep through sex ed. We had it in school and I paid attention and there were tests and I’m certain I got straight A’s, and the first time I’d encountered a vagina in the wild I was still very surprised indeed! Nothing was where it was supposed to be, according to my imagination, so I just made an on-the-fly decision to adjust and roll with these perplexing new developments and made a mental note to maybe later politely ask the girl, “Hey, just checking, but have I been wrong about where the vagina was supposed to be or — level with me — is there a chance that just yours is off?” (Fortunately, I never asked that question, which would have been a horrible thing for me to ask of another young person who was also self-conscious and inexperienced sexually. Unfortunately, I still forgot to bring up this initial misconception to anyone else, to find if I was alone in this mistake for the rest of my life.)
I’ll throw some MORE stuff at you. My mom was a school nurse for a different school, and she was in charge of teaching sex ed there. She wasn’t pushy about the subject or anything, but it was clear that if I had any questions, she was a professional expert on the subject and wouldn’t mind telling me anything I needed to know about sex. “You’ve already taught me so much,” he thought, remembering fondly the fact that his room had its own TV with HBO.
“You’ve already taught me so-” Oh, I already used that joke in the actual body of the article? Weird, it feels like
such a “caption” joke. Oh well, then I guess I just don’t have anything for the caption here.
It seemed like I had every opportunity to be an expert. If you’re heading into a hurricane on some kind of vagina-rescue mission, and you need someone who can spot one from a mile out, you theoretically want someone with my training. So, how does someone with access to a sex-ed teacher, a professional sex-ed-teaching parent, and HBO’s Real Sex still get caught off guard by his first actual vagina? And not just me but every guy I’ve ever talked to except that one liar?
It’s bad when some dude with a mullet and raincoat fetish is a sex god compared to you.
It’s because we’re terrible at talking about sex in this country. It’s because everything I learned about sex in school was taught to me by a gym teacher who clearly just wanted to get it over with. We were allowed to ask questions, sure, but what confused 14-year-old wants to ask a sex question, out loud, in a room full of his peers, and to a teacher who insisted we call him “Coach”?
For the record, my question probably would have been, “Hi, I’m 14 and I’m, like, constantly horny and furious and I sort of hate my body for the first time ever and it seemed like a week ago my biggest concern was ‘What if we run out of corn dogs at lunch before I get there,’ and now my chief concern is ‘What if I’m weird at sex forever and everyone knows,’ and I was wondering if there was any way we could go back to the corn dog life and also I don’t know if it goes without saying or not so I’m just going to say it: I am horny and furious right this second. Please help?”
The worst thing about corn dogs in a post-corn-dog life is that a corn dog is no longer just a corn dog.
I wasn’t going to ask that question, and not just because the fucking soccer coach we hired to teach kids about sex said abstinence is the only true path and that the only authority we should acknowledge is God. (Hi, my name’s Daniel, and this has been “Public School In The ’90s.”) I wasn’t going to ask that question, because I didn’t know how to.
At 14, kids learning about sex have nothing BUT questions — we just don’t have the vocabulary to ask them or an environment that suggests in any way that our dumbest questions (“I saw an episode of Real Sex where a man dressed as a baby in a barn and got yelled at and whipped by his wife until they both reached orgasm; is all sex terrifying?”) would be taken seriously.
“Is whatever this guy’s about to do with that head normal or the worst thing ever?
I need to know now, not later at Macy’s.”
And I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but if Coach Soccer brought out a mannequin and made our final exam “Point to the vagina,” literally everyone in our class would have failed. But he didn’t, so we all passed, and I’m really, really sorry, All Women.