In 1995, an American educator named Charles J. Sykes wrote a scathing criticism of the US education system entitled Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why America’s Children Feel Good About Themselves but Can’t Read, Write, or Add. In the book, Sykes gives a list of “rules for life” that kids will never learn in school, and in one of the more worthwhile urban legends to pollute the Internet in recent years, these “11 Rules” (there are actually 14) are erroneously attributed to Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
The rules might not get as much attention if they weren’t mistakenly credited to a famous achiever but that doesn’t make them any less valid, and while Professor Sykes wrote them with American high school and college graduates in mind, with some minor modifications they are just as applicable to Pinoy youth. In much the same way as American society – and in some respects, even more so – Filipino kids are allowed to grow up in a protective and unrealistic bubble that presents few challenges to help their developing minds and emotions grow stronger, and sends them unprepared into a world where metrics of achievement based on good intentions or a misplaced sense of entitlement simply do not exist. Maybe bringing these rules up now as the country settles into another school year will help the next generation of graduates make the most of their time in the classroom and avoid a lot of disappointments later on:
Rule No. 1: Life is not fair. Get used to it. Your right to seek your own happiness and success does not mean that you are guaranteed to find it.
Rule No. 2: The world doesn’t care about your self-esteem. You can earn the world’s esteem by accomplishing something, but how you feel about yourself doesn’t matter to anyone but you. When your expectations are crushed because your inflated self-esteem has been overwhelmed by reality, see Rule No. 1, then pull yourself together and do something worthwhile.
Rule No. 3: You are not going to make P50,000 a month right out of college, and certainly not right out of high school, you are not going to be a vice-president, and if you have a job that has “manager” or “officer” in the title, that’s only because your employer wanted to make it sound better in order to attract some applicants.
Rule No. 4: If you think your teacher is tough and unreasonable, wait until you have a boss (which you will have – see Rule No. 3). Your boss does not have tenure, and what’s more, from his point of view, keeping his job is not only dependent on his not screwing up, but on keeping you from screwing up as well. So don’t be surprised if he does not seem to care how you feel about it when he calls you on the carpet after you do screw up (see Rule No. 2).
Rule No. 5: Bagging groceries or cleaning tables at Jollibee is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different name for that sort of thing: They called it “opportunity.” Remember, every ladder has a bottom rung.
Rule No. 6: After announcing to your parents (many times, if you’re a normal young person) that “It’s my life” and “I can make my own decisions,” if you make mistakes, it’s your fault, not your parents’.
Rule No. 7: Before you were born, your parents were as cool and idealistic as you think you are now; they turned into the boring and out-of-touch people they are today by paying your bills, making sure you were housed, clothed, and loved, and listening to you tell them how boring and out-of-touch they are compared to you. So before you try to save the world from all the wrongs committed by your parents’ generation, try to keep your generation from committing its own. Your children may appreciate it.
Rule No. 8: By the time you’ve finished college, it is likely you will have “graduated” half a dozen times, and been showered with awards for adequately meeting the most trivial expectations. Schools do this to keep you motivated; it does not at all resemble anything in real life. If this confuses you, re-read Rules 1 through 5.
Rule No. 9: Life is not divided into semesters, and you don’t get summers off. No Spring Break. Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter are one-day holidays, if that. You are expected to show up every day for a full day’s work, and you don’t get to start over every 10 or 12 weeks. On a related note, “finding yourself” or “cultivating your self-expression” are probably not in your job description. Do that on your own time.
Rule No. 10: Television and movies are not real life. Your life and the challenges you face will not fit into neat hour-long episodes. Rocky and the Karate Kid only seemed to train themselves into fight-winning shape in a relatively short amount of time because they can’t make movies 10,000 hours long, which is about the length of time it takes to become an expert at anything.
Rule No. 11: Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them, because nerds are usually the people who understand Rule No. 10.
Rule No. 12: Smoking does not make you look cool. Even smokers will usually agree with this, because almost every one of them has or will at some point deeply regret ever picking up the habit. The ones who will say they don’t are either liars or idiots.
Wearing three-inch heels with your school uniform also does not make you look cool, and neither does wearing your cellphone on a lanyard around your neck, a T-shirt with a marijuana leaf, swastika, or Che Guevara’s head on it (do you even know who Che Guevara is?), baller bands, rainbow-striped mesh trucker’s hats notched down three sizes too small, pants that are three sizes too big, or hair that is more than one color. Doing your best to look exactly like everyone else in your age group is not an effective way to express your individuality, not even ironically. Those of us who have been through it already have an embarrassing collection of pictures of what we looked like 10 or 20 years ago to remind us of this fact.
Rule No. 13: You are not immortal, and no matter what religion or other belief system you follow, every one of those known to mankind frowns on one’s hastening his own entry to the Afterlife. If you think there is something tragically romantic about the philosophy of “live fast, die young, and leave a nice corpse,” then you obviously have not actually seen a corpse. So take care of yourself.
Rule No. 14: Enjoy it while you can; you will be the age you are now only once in your life. School is a drag, your parents are oppressive, and the future is worrisome and uncertain. But there will come a day when you remember how great it was to be a kid.