Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Basic Life Skills

I recently had a number of conversations with several different people in different contexts about what "the most important things" that we learn are. I've begun to come to the conclusion that really, what one needs to know are some basic life skills. Beyond this, formal training, discipleship and vocational training are great. Here are some things I think every adult should know. This list is fluid and probably reflects some of my frustrations at the moment. 

Basic life skills

Food and Drink

  • Know how to measure ingredients using the proper measuring tools.
  • Know major differences between pots and pans and what they're used for.
  • Understand the different kinds of utensils and when to use which for cooking and serving.
  • Know how to read and follow a recipe including common terms and abbreviations
  • Know how to hygienically handle food.
  • Know how to read nutrition labels and balance portions and calories.
  • Understand the basic food groups and where most common foods go on it and why.
  • Know how to get basic sustenance on the road, at work, and at home.
  • Know how to use basic ingredients to prepare basic meals.
  • How to shop for groceries.


  • Know what the tools of a basic toolbox are and how to use them.
  • Understand basic locking mechanisms.
  • Know how to break in/out of your home if you need to.
  • Understand how a breaker box and fuse box work and why we need them.
  • Understand how water is brought, captured and heated in a home.
  • Know how to open the different kinds of windows.
  • Know what kinds of things it is safe to store together.
  • Know how to use a fire extinguisher, water, or baking soda to put out fires and when to use each.
  • Understand how homes are heated and cooled and how thermostats work.
  • How to get electricity, water and gas to a home.
  • How to deal with insects in the home.


  • How to operate an automatic transmission motor vehicle.
  • How to adjust the mirrors
  • What the gauges mean.
  • Where the blind spot is.
  • Know traffic laws, etiquette and safety.
  • How to check oil and what to do if it's low.
  • What to do when a car overheats.
  • How to jump a vehicle.
  • How to change a tire.
  • How to get a vehicle unstuck from snow, ice and mud.


  • How to balance a checkbook.
  • How to make a budget.
  • How compound interest works (in general).
  • Why some things are more expensive than others.
  • Fast, cheap, or quality: pick any one.
  • The “four walls” (shelter, food, utilities, transportation).
  • The hierarchy of needs and tyranny of wants.


  • How to straighten up, clean and deep clean and when each is appropriate.
  • How to use the toilet with minimal toilet paper or other mess.
  • How and when to change bed clothes.
  • How to wash and dry laundry.
  • How to handle blood, urine, feces and other gross things.
  • Basic first aid.
  • How to wash one's hands.
  • When sick means too sick to work.
  • How to use basic OTC medicines and home remedies.
  • When to go to the doctor, emergency room or call an ambulance.

Social Skills

  • How and when to say “please and thank you.”
  • How to listen to a boring conversation.
  • Know what to do when people are rude.
  • Know who has the right to tell whom what to do when.
  • Basic English grammar and pronunciation.
  • Know how to handle sexual harassment.
  • Understand the basic private/public/social distinction.
  • Understand the concept of favors and paying them back ASAP.
  • Understand the difference between an acquaintance, a colleague, a family member and a friend and what one's obligations are to each.
  • Understand how to avoid gossip and negativity.
  • How to look for the good in people.
  • How to eat at a restaurant, other people's homes and with family.
  • How much alcohol you can safely consume and how to politely decline before that point.
  • How to eat foods you don't like when it is rude not to do so.

Education skills

  • Understand how to find mentors, how to teach and how to learn in a variety of contexts.
  • Understand how to evaluate sources for bias and credibility
  • Understand how to read, use a library and get materials.
  • Understand the role various educational institutions play in your life.
  • Know how to find local experts and ask questions and how much this should cost.
  • Know the difference between fiction, fact and opinion.

Spiritual Skills

  • The books of the Bible and how “chapters” and “verses” work.
  • A few basic Bible “stories” and how they affect us.
  • How to pray.
  • What to do when we're surrounded by evil.
  • How to avoid temptation.
  • Understand the trinity.
  • Know how to read the Bible.
  • Understand the most basic concepts of spiritual authority and how it works in the church, family and individual lives.
  • Understand that God loves us, knows more than us and wants the best for us, eternally.
  • Know who gets to go to Heaven and why.  
So that's what I think right now. What should be added? Which skills are not basic? Feel free to comment below or on the Facebook link.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Telos of Teaching

Coming to terms witht the last day, again.

Today is the last day of summer teaching for me. I have a short break from teaching before classes begin in August and I need it. My wife and I have a baby due in November and need to spend some time together while we can. I have a paper I want to get out to a publisher this summer and another on which I'd like to make serious progress, aiming at sending it off before my baby's due date. I need to revamp my online class to meet accessibility standards. I will be moving to a new office and need to unpack, decorate, etc. I am part of my University's assessment team and will be traveling to Illinois before long to work with the Higher Learning Commission on improving assessment. I have a lot to do and teaching really is getting in the way of it.

Still, teaching is why I got into this gig. I didn't know I was going to be a teacher growing up. It wasn't until I got a job with the writing center at the university where I did my undergraduate work that I realized this was an option. As I sat across the table from my tutees, teaching them to write better, something woke up inside me. It was a realization that this is what I was MEANT to do. If a person has never experienced this, it is really difficult to explain. One of the reasons I could never doubt the existence of God is that I cannot doubt my experience of teleology, of becoming what I am meant to be.

I get this sense at other times and in other places: during worship at church, sometimes when I'm writing a research paper, occasionally when I'm working in a committee and it all clicks together to create something good for the institution. Every time my wife and I have gone in for an ultrasound and I've seen my unborn child on the screen, I've felt it. None of these is a situation where I can always expect it, however. None of these is as replicable. Every single time I've gotten in front of a classroom, every single time I've stood to teach, whether I do well at it or not on a particular day, I feel like a needle in a groove, like a train on a track, like a gear in a machine. I feel like I am moving and doing what I've been designed for and it feels good.

And as I do it, I fall in love. I fall in love with the ideas. I fall in love with the material. I fall in love with the students. If falling in love is a metaphor, it is a near one. I hunger for it. I desire it. My heart flutters and I get goose-bumps. Every day, at the end of class, I am eager for the next one.

Then it ends. Every semester ends. It needs to end. I am exhausted. My soul is empty because I have poured so much in to this. Yet, I am sad. Every semester the pain of ending is worse. Many of these students, I will never see again. Certainly, if I do, the relationship will be changed, strained, forced somehow. It's over. So, I go into a bit of a funk here on the last day. I need it to end, but I want it to just keep going.