The real role of education

As debates about the direction of educational systems take place in the US and other countries, it’s worthwhile to take into consideration the possibility that we’re teaching the children too much theory and too many arcane concepts rather than practical things which will prepare them for real life.

There’s nothing wrong with knowing physics or calculus or biology, but if you have a child, wouldn’t you rather they leave compulsory education knowing the following practical things?

  • How to speak and write properly
  • How to balance a checkbook
  • How to budget their money
  • How not to fall prey to scams or predatory financial practices
  • How to maintain proper bodily hygiene
  • How to protect themselves from STDs and how to respect each other’s bodies
  • How to respect others and their beliefs
  • How not to fall prey to peer pressure
  • The importance of individuality and of having a backbone
  • How to put fashion second and budgets first
  • How to keep their homes clean and organized
  • How to avoid a consumerist mindset
  • How to respect the environment
  • How to recycle
  • How to purchase sustainable, highly recyclable, durable products
  • How to cook and wash dishes
  • How to garden
  • How to build things
  • How to paint
  • How to fix things
  • How to change a flat tire
  • How cars work
  • How to buy quality furniture
  • How to eat healthy
  • How to stay in shape
  • How to have fun without a TV or a movie
  • How to play sports
  • How to camp
  • How to explore the wilderness
  • How computers work and how to service basic hardware like memory, cards or hard drives
  • How to avoid viruses, spyware and other crap you find online
  • How to find true love and how to keep that love
  • How to take care of babies
  • How to find a job and how to do a good job
  • The importance of honesty and being forthright
  • How to accept responsibility
  • How to finish something they’ve started
  • How to investigate politicians and vote according to sound moral and ethical principles
  • How to drink responsibly
  • How to take care of pets
  • How to travel light
  • How to respect other cultures
  • How to draw
  • Basic art history
  • Basic anatomy and first aid
  • Basic preventive health

I believe this list of practical things is much more worthwhile for a child to know when he or she leaves school than other, more esoteric things, like what books a 19th century writer published, or the strength of the magnetic field generated by some electric motor. They’ll be much better equipped for life this way. Let’s leave the more advanced, the more scientific topics for those children who are interested in them, and for optional education, like college and graduate programs.

When a child finishes high school, they ought to know how to live as an adult, and that means knowing how to face the real world. I’m afraid we’re not equipping them to do that. That’s why we have so many people who fall prey to predatory scams, or who don’t know how to organize their homes, or who end up in abusive relationships or abuse others, because they don’t know better.


11 thoughts on “The real role of education

  1. Este uimitor cat de simplu si totusi clar ai exprimat ceea ce credem si noi. Concret suntem parintii a doi baieti pretiosi, de 14 si 8 ani pe care ii educam acasa, tocmai pentru ca ne dorim pentru ei o educatie diferita de ceea ce poate oferi sistemul romanesc de educatie. Dar e foarte greu sa innoti contra curentului. Ne bucuram ca sunt prin preajma oameni care gandesc si altfel, si ne-am dori sa mai colaboram. De exemplu, ai fi dispus sa iei din cand in cand un ucenic de 14 ani pe langa tine cu care sa conversezi in limba engleza si sa-l inveti cate ceva din obiectivele propuse in lista ta?

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  2. I hope by the time my family is grown that they have a grasp of most of these things, but if the school teaches all these things, what is left for Alison and me to do as parents?

    The ability of kids to learn new things is never matched at any other stage in life. The best we can do is teach them lots of new things in the hope that something sticks, and they find something they truly love doing. My greatest ambition for my family is that they can make a living doing something they love.

    While I hardly use any of the subjects I studied at school or university, what it does do is demonstrate to employers that I can be trained to a fairly high level…making me much more employable.

    Having said all that, it’s a great list which I will definitely refer to.

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    1. So if they hear the same things from you and from school, how could it hurt? It has a better chance of sticking.

      It’s true, kids are like sponges, they soak everything in. But instead of filling them with stuff they’re not interested in, perhaps we should focus on teaching them life skills first, and let them find their own way when it comes to what they want to do in life.

      I sat through many a chemistry lecture wishing I was somewhere else, and yet other classes didn’t seem to last long enough, that’s how much I enjoyed them. Perhaps starting with the fifth grade, we should start letting kids have more freedom with the subjects they want to study, and to guide them along instead of forcing them all to learn the same subjects. I’m not saying reading, writing and arithmetic should be skipped, but alongside basic knowledge and life skills, they should be able to pick 1-3 subjects per semester which they’d actually enjoy studying.

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  3. I’m going to half agree with you, and half agree with the other two who have commented. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to ban the teaching of anything on religious grounds. For sure, a lot of those things in your list should ideally be taught at home. And a few of them should perhaps only be taught at home. And quite a number of them are taught at school in the UK, inc STD’s,

    But there’s nothing wrong with teaching life skills at school. There’s no need to cut back on other classes to do it either. Just add a half hour a day to the school day, and fund the employment of teachers properly.

    I do feel that the education system (and again I speak for the UK) focuses too much on the purely academic, and not enough on more vocational and social education. Students are on the rampage at the moment in the UK because of increased university tuition costs.

    They’d like one of my policies (for the day when I make my grab at power…!) which would be free university education. It is a national investment. They’d probably not like the fact that I’d reduce the number of available university places (or free places at any rate) by a massive amount.

    Too many people are just taking degrees for the sake of having a degree, and too many employers are seeking graduates for no other reason than it looks good on the books. In neither case is the degree always actually necessary.

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    1. Given the amount of knowledge freely available on the internet (and in libraries), what I’d like to see is the option to go in and take equivalency exams for subjects one has studied on their own. So if I love 19th century English lit and have studied it intensely, but haven’t got a degree in it, I should be able to go in and take a standardized exam for each course (or bundle of courses) that make up a part of a degree program. Then, once I’ve taken the required number of exams and passed them satisfactorily, I would get a diploma. This would (or should) be a much less expensive option to a full college education. Because I don’t think higher ed will ever be fully free. There will always be some cost. If you make it free, it means it will be state-run, and state-run enterprises usually reward the lazy, the corrupt, and the brown-nosers.

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      1. I don’t see why ‘state run’ should mean those things. Would you object to taking a degree at Cambridge or Oxford? They’ve been amongst the finest universities for centuries. And are state run. I could also go into one regards health as well – we spend half as much per person as the average American. And live longer, with a lower infant mortality rate.

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  4. Raoul. I can’t help but disagree with you, almost completely.

    A couple if those things are actually contrary to the Gospel. Also, the majority of those on your list are best learned at home. In fact very few of those items would I want my kids learning from anywhere else but home.

    Those arcane, complex things that you seem to devalue are what equip young people, and us all, for making a contribution to society and our communities.

    In fact, it is a combination of 19th and early 20th Century writings that have influenced me, causing me to write my first novel. I first read them in high school.

    It is a parent’s job, no responsibility, to teach their children how to become an adult.

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    1. Trev, I love 18th and 19th century literature. I majored in it in college. You’re preaching to the choir. But as much as I also liked trig and calculus and physics, I can’t remember the last time I had to use one of those equations in real life. Or when I had to whip out some test tubes and do a chemical reaction. The stuff that really helped me though turned out to be the typing class I took, which I did so on a lark. And sports also helped me immensely. I’m sorry I didn’t take drama and shop. But I’m glad I took foreign languages. And I really do wish they’d taught classes in those other subjects I mentioned. They’d have helped a LOT of the kids in school cope with the environment there a little better, and come out of high school much better prepared for life.

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  5. Really I think many of your line items are thing that parents should be teaching in the home. If parents taught children how to be responsible little humans, schools would be free to teach the reading, writing, and arithmetic. Schools waste tons of valuable time on ‘social issues’ parents should be teaching. I think we should do a better job of rearing our children, so teachers can do a better job of teaching.

    Just my thought.
    -FringeGirl

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    1. FringeGirl, I also wish parents did a better job of rearing their children. But for all the controversy that gets raised when school education gets mentioned, and for all the yelling I’ve heard parents do when schools supposedly butt in, somehow today’s children (and adults) still have no idea how to budget properly, how to save their money, how to borrow money and pay it back, and the list could go on and on. We only need look at the financial crisis in the US, and the sheer amount of people that defaulted on their loans because they didn’t budget properly (I’m not talking about the ones that lost their jobs, I’m talking about the ones that borrowed more than they should have) to see that parents didn’t get through to them with financial advice, or didn’t take the time to teach them properly. And I only need look at today’s teens, and the sorts of behaviors they engage in, to know that parents in general aren’t doing a good job of teaching them the basics of life and relationships.

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