High School Students Know How to Do Taxes, So Shut Up About It

You’ve seen the memes before. They say something like, “I wish I learned to do my taxes or change my oil instead of learning the quadratic equation.” It’s an exceedingly clever quip which insists that schools are teaching students useless information and depriving them of practical knowledge. While students would likely agree with the sentiment, the fact is that they have already learned how to do their taxes and many of the other daunting tasks sometimes referred to as “adulting” by my generation. Here’s why it’s time to put this dumb meme to rest.

The Educational System Teaches Students How to Learn

From the outside looking in, the educational system can look confusing, but it’s important to remember that the goal of school is not to absorb facts. You’re there to learn how to learn for the rest of your life.

School administrators and teachers continually develop the curriculum to ensure that students learn and master specific skills by certain checkpoints in their education. For example, students will have a level of proficiency with adding and subtracting in second grade and they’ll graduate high school with an understanding of pre-calculus. The goal is to teach a skill and then help students discover different ways to apply it to other subjects or in more complicated tasks within the original subject.

Another interesting thing about modern education is that it’s geared towards skills-based learning outcomes. Students are being prepared to seek information by themselves and apply it to their required tasks. That’s why students have to do the dreaded research papers, to reinforce and demonstrate mastery of finding useful information for a specific topic and showing how it is relevant to their thesis.

Following this little bit of logic, by the time students flip their tassels and then throw their caps in their air, they know how to do the following: complex reading, 12th-grade math, and research. Do you know what you can do with those skills? Read tax forms and fill them out, learn how to do an oil change, and perform basic research about a mortgage or health insurance. All these skills that schools are supposedly denying to their students are being taught, and not even in a roundabout way. Students have the entire internet at their disposal, most of them right in their pocket. Surely, we can skip some topics in school when they are so readily available online?

Whatever form of the meme passes by your screen, high school grads have been prepared to do that task, even if they didn’t do that exact task in school.

Students Probably Wouldn’t Remember “Tax Class” Anyway

Now, the cynic in me wants to say that most people would have paid as much attention to a lesson on taxes as they would any other subject in high school. They’ll put in just enough effort to get a passing grade on the topic and then they’ll add it to the pile of learning that will seep out of their minds. I realize that it’s not their fault. They have to prioritize their learning to retain the most useful information. Still, the practical elements of the lessons remain. That’s why all-year, cumulative finals are so monstrous but still possible to do.

Aside from that cynical idea that the students would not have cared about taxes in high school, the simple truth is that people can’t possibly remember everything. Even the best students in high school might not remember useful information years later.

Can you rattle off the quadratic formula? Could you give me an example of binomial nomenclature or tell me how many articles were in the Federalist Papers? These are all things that we’ve learned in high school, but we tend to forget them when they’re no longer useful or frequently called upon by our memory. Again, that’s not a criticism of students; it’s a fact of life.

So, what’s the use in cutting out other valuable lessons and replacing them with taxes? Wouldn’t time in the classroom would be much better spent on developing other skills that are transferrable to other life situations? In my opinion, yes. I say continue working on skills in the classroom that are multi-faceted like math, reading, and discerning the truthfulness of the information they encounter on a daily basis.

Practical Lessons Should Not Be Taught in School

Even if students were going to remember everything that they were taught in “tax class”, we have to draw a line in the sand. Some things are not meant to be taught in school. We don’t teach kids to brush their teeth or drive a car in school. What we do have is a section on hygiene in Health class and Driver’s Ed, but there are several reasons that parents and guardians are the ones teaching these life lessons.

For one thing, parents have the experience to teach their kids these lessons in a place that is less embarrassing and safer than in front of another hundred kids their age. Another reason is practicality. Unless the school has real tax professionals on staff, there is no effective way to train all enough teachers in every high school in the finer points of tax prep to answer the questions that students might come up with. After all, teachers are required to have mastery of a subject to teach it, not just a little bit of knowledge.

With that said, it’s time to face it: moms, dads, sisters, aunts, or cousins are going to have to step up if someone is struggling with some practical parts of life. Schools teach your kids the skills they need to acquire the knowledge to perform these adult tasks, but they can’t hold your hand through doing them.

Well, Can’t We Do Something?

Now that I’ve told you why kids can actually do taxes and why it’s past time to shut up about it, I want to turn my attention to schools. Realistically, a lot of students graduate without basic knowledge that could benefit them in the future. I didn’t even know renter’s insurance existed until I was 20, and then suddenly I needed it.

If schools are going to work harder to prepare kids for real-world issues, then I see two potential courses of action. The first option is that schools could have a string of experts come in and give seminars to juniors and seniors in a Q&A format, pass out some reading materials, and give students some familiarity with a topic. However, that would come without the possibility of testing kids on the topic, which means many schools won’t let it happen. We’re all about those test grades, after all.

The second option is teachers could team up and deliver some real-world advice in regularly scheduled classes. They could cover basic things like registering to vote, taxes, and all the other things students are allegedly helpless at doing by the time they leave high school. Of course, this would come with more tests and would have to replace some other activity in school. My vote would be for square dancing in Phys Ed, but what do I know? The bottom line is that it could be done if students are actually feeling that ill-prepared for the real world. Or, we could take a step back and realize how silly it is to say that a high school graduate figure out taxes.

Now that I’ve talked to death about students, learning, and taxes, I’m going to take some of my own advice and shut up about it.

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