Sixty years ago, Bernard Bailyn jolted historians of education by reminding us how little our ancestors learned in school: the three Rs, Latin for the privileged. (Education in the Forming of American Society) Family and community did the rest: girls might go out to “service”, boys to apprenticeships; many learned to earn their livelihoods at home.

Schools do a great deal more today. But family, friends, and community are still important educators, though sometimes hit-or-miss. College teachers, not to mention employers, regret the gaps in school learning. And in-home learning.

What do concerned observers hope to see? One, vitally important: the ability to live with others, humanely, decently. Schools work at this; so must the rest of us. Role models may mean more than instruction. Higher education and employment are communal activities.

Two, budgeting skills: there are two important kinds. Money: how do adults decide what they can afford, when? (The first phone bill can be a shock, especially when people move far away.) Time: absent parental control and the school bell, how to allot hours to the necessary, useful, and pleasurable, on time and in time? (Learning involves freedom, and mistakes.)

Then there are the smaller practicalities.

Laundry. Ignorance may not be conventionally gendered. In a college dormitory, young men can be found instructing young women in the use of washing machines. Watching attempts to iron can be hilarious, or discouraging.

Cooking (especially with Covid concerns about eating out). Too many people can’t safely boil water, much less an egg. How to use basic equipment like knives and can-openers; non-stick coatings, and how to keep them so. Cooking techniques. How to keep left-overs healthy. (The back seat of the car is not the place to store half-eaten Chinese food.) How not to blow up the microwave.

Shopping. Use-by dates, determining freshness, knowing what the recipe calls for without constant recourse to the cell phone while in the supermarket, are all easily learnable skills.

Cars. Never mind the ability to change a wheel or jumpstart a dead battery; many people don’t know where the washer fluid cap and the dipstick are, or where the hood latch is, for that matter.

There’s plenty to learn at home.

As well as teaching, David R Jones has run a college residence.

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