Kaupo Meiel: Today, we'll learn how not to be a jerk

Kaupo Meiel.
Kaupo Meiel. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Kaupo Meiel proposes a new subject for the nascent schoolyear: "How not to be a jerk, with practical examples from adult life."

The long-awaited knowledge month has finally arrived. September 1 will mark the start of the schoolyear both in places that have a school but not students and those where students are myriad, while schools are short on places. Also in schools where the PE teacher also has to teach mathematics and shop because teachers are in short supply.

Considering Estonia's rather modest population, it would help save money if we just built one giant schoolhouse in Paide that all the nation's kids could attend. This would finally put Estonia's heart and mind in the same place, while it is clear the leaders do not have the courage for such an extensive education reform, even to divert attention from yet another scandal.

In any case, "school bondage," as my grandmother used to call it, is starting again to force children to learn everything they might need in life while they're still young. School not only gives us the ability to do arithmetic, so we could find the square root of Tammsaare and Under while hanging wallpaper, but also basic manners and ethical norms adults should observe.

It has been long years since I attended first grade and only remember little besides Lenin being a great and noble man. This prompted me to leaf through our basic school curriculum to learn what kind of people we are trying to educate today.

One might think that adults are more knowledgeable than first-graders and already know what kids will be learning in their first few years at school, while this does not always seem to be the case.

For example, according to the curriculum, a child who has graduated from third grade "respects their family, class and school; is polite and keeps their promises; knows that no one is to be ridiculed, bullied or made fun of; has the ability to listen to and commend fellows." One look at social media or a live feed from the parliament is enough to conclude that at least half of the population should be sent back to elementary school.

Ideally, a third grade graduate knows how to spare nature, respect their community and Estonia; notices and values beauty and creativity and enjoys exercise, creative self-expression and activity; can maintain cleanliness and order and take care of their appearance and health.

The more you look, the clearer it becomes that all adults should spend at least a year back in first grade. While it is said that things one learns young stay with the person their entire life, this isn't strictly true.

Expectations placed on schoolchildren are considerable, and probably always have been. As put by (psychiatrist) Aadu Kadakas in the Estonian film "Siin me oleme," "The authority is good today, while they demand so much from children! It's all study, study, study!" While the message concerned a different authority at the time, not much has changed in this regard since then.

Young people are expected to know everything after graduating from school, and they do, because high school graduates are the smartest group of people in society who will spend the rest of their lives forgetting what they have learned.

In some ways then, the time spent going to school and cramming is wasted as it is of too little benefit in the end. This was vividly demonstrated this week when Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise had to remind politicians not to do to others that which they do not want done to themselves.

The justice chancellor wrote: "Fair parliamentary culture can be achieved by imagining oneself in the role of a member of the government and parliament, both a proponent and opponent of government plans. It is also prudent as coalitions tend to change."

This suggests that a very important lesson that one might remember from school is in fact not just forgotten but dead and buried.

But I still continue believing in a brighter future where adults can still recall their first lessons on how you should respect your fellows, even if you do not agree with them; apologize when you have made a mistake; speak clearly and not lie. Perhaps we should complement the already busy curriculum with another subject we might call, "How not to be a jerk, with practical examples from adult life." Perhaps it would help the message sink in.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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