I read somewhere that the number one thing men want from their wives is to be appreciated for what they do right, as opposed to criticized for what they do wrong. I assume that showing appreciation is a learnable skill, just like saying please and thank you. So while the school girls in this country are learning that mylonite is a breccieated metamorphic rock frequently found in a fault zone (to recycle a phrase), they are learning nothing about how to keep their future marriages intact.

Likewise, the little boys in this country are learning nothing about how to be better future husbands and fathers.

Kids also learn nothing about the importance of a positive outlook, especially how it affects other people. They don't learn about setting goals, or managing risk, or discerning the difference between truth and lies in the media and in person.

You could make your own long list of skills that kids aren't taught during the time they are learning things they will never use. Yes, yes, yes, I understand that some of the subjects taught in school are meant to increase critical thinking and generally expand minds as opposed to teaching useful facts, but isn't there a way to accomplish the same thing with topics that ARE useful?

I'm in the process of building a house. (This is year 3.5 of the process, and ground was broken just yesterday.) While the project is frustrating, it is also intellectually fascinating. I had no idea how many technical disciplines would be involved. There's even an engineer who specializes in knowing how to move the dirt from one part of the property and fill in a hole in another, packing it down in just the right way to make it stable for the foundation.

You could take any tiny portion of the house project and make it an exercise in critical thinking. I can imagine a school curriculum organized around building an imaginary house, advancing from first grade through high school. Kids could learn all sorts of useful skills, from budgeting (math), to calculating loads (science), to learning how couples can decide on the fixtures and furniture. Your geography course could be based on deciding what country to build your house in. Geology would be oriented toward deciding what type of land to build on. Art class would involve interior design and architecture, with a semester on how to identify good art for the walls. Biology would involve understanding your own future garden and plants. Evolution would involve learning why your family dog walks on four legs and you walk on two.

You would learn all the critical thinking you ever needed just trying to design a kitchen that requires the fewest footsteps and fits into a defined space, with a limited budget.

Kids who are gifted would learn more about the math and science behind the engineering of the house. Kids on a more hands-on career path might be learning how to pave the driveway or design the electrical system. Designing and building a house employs almost every useful field of knowledge, excepting maybe history and language.

Maybe we wouldn't be in this economic mess if all kids had to learn about budgeting, mortgage loans, and risk analysis.

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Oct 21, 2008
Parental involvement is a MUST. Without parents interested in their children learning, the children are left to muddle through life on their own and are at the mercy of the unionized bad-teacher-retaining education system. I did not learn to read in school, I learned to read at home. When I was 2-1/2 years old, my baby brother was born. For the first 6-9 months of my brother's life, my mother would put him down for a nap, and then to keep me quiet would read to me for an hour or two. Always the teacher, my mother would run her fingers along under the words she was reading, drawing my eye's attention to the words she was saying. After the first many months, I had memorized entire books of my favorite stories that I made my poor and Mother Theresa-esque patient mother read over and over again. However, a few MORE months of this, and I found myself reading along. Granted, very simple children's books, but still...reading. By the time I reached the "sound it out" phase in school, I was reading my favorite stories on my own. That early love of reading is something that has never left me, and contributed greatly to my long-term education.
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Oct 21, 2008
The Last Child in The Woods talks about how important it is for kids to actually live in the world, not just learn about it. Knowing what type a rock is makes more sense if you actually go out and pick up that rock, see where it's found, and what kinds of plants grow around it.

Building treehouses used to be common. Now they're practically illegal (too much liability, no free space in which to do it...) Aside: Liability actually makes sense if one injury in a family can bankrupt the family... but that's another topic.
Oct 21, 2008
I agree that certain topics - including those you listed - could/should be added. (I would add assertiveness and touch typing).

A related concern is how we try to pound every child into the same shaped hole. In general, little girls are more verbal and more willing to sit still. Boys usually prefer more hands on situations and don't usually care to sit and be talked to for very long. Rather than accept that not all kids are the same, the current solution seems to be a policy of drugging the boys. (And, yes, there will be exceptions within both genders.)
Oct 21, 2008
After reading this follow-up post of yours, Scott, I do have an addendum to my comments on education I made to your previous post - having a teacher who is closely connected to the students, and able to make the topics relevant is extremely important. I owe my engineering career to a very timely intervention by just the right teachers at just the right times. One example: right about when math was becoming too abstract and pointless to me (trig in high school), a teacher spotted my growing frustration and helped me see how trig could describe many things in the world around me - vibrations, signals, etc., etc. It didn't take much of this "practical" approach to make the whole subject relevant to me again. We were able to continue studying the abstract concept, but the few relevant examples were supremely important in making the subject both palatable and meaningful.

In my own teaching, I find the hands-on application of knowledge to be an absolute necessity, usually in the form of some project that extends beyond a simple homework assignment. It is difficult to motivate students to do the extra work these days, but I believe that when they do, the benefits are immense. Real-world application of theoretical abstracts are some of the best ways to cement concepts in the mind of a student. One of the additional benefits of real-world applications is the harsh reality that there are real problems and unexpected Murphy intrusions to anything that is attempted. No matter the subject they are working on, they will have to draw from more than one knowledge area to be successful.

It is not enough to generate critical thinkers, but we must be able to generate purposeful, intelligent, and cognizant people able to operate in the real world. "Ivory tower"-type critical thinking skills without the link to practicality are much less important to me. Throughout my engineering career and education I have discovered that the teachers I enjoyed the most and learned the most from were teachers that had gone through career evolutions that involved non-academic jobs at some point in their post-baccalaureate careers. The vast difference in having a teacher that could relate the abstract to a real-world problem, an on-the-job experience, or an interesting example versus one that had never left the comfortable confines of the education environment was impressive enough to encourage me to work in the "real world" for a few years before pursuing my Ph.D. and teaching goals. One additional example: when our engineering project management course was taught, the teacher spent a week discussing mortgages and loans, explaining how we needed to take our applied economics and be able to use it not only in engineering business decisions, but also in our own personal lives and finances. The tips and knowledge gained there were extremely $$$ valuable $$$ when I negotiated my first new car and home loans.

I reiterate my previous post's assertion, however, that we cannot take the hard work and abstraction completely out of the education equation. An integral part of learning is to learn how to deal with complex abstractions, and you cannot have a complete educational process that focuses solely on a "practical-based approach". Learning and achievement are meant to be difficult - students have to push and stretch to reach goals that are unreachable without the appropriate effort.
Oct 21, 2008
this is an unauthorized use of the dilbert character, right:

any reward?

Oct 21, 2008
The education method you describe, the building of a house, is exactly what my Daughter is doing in school. She attends a Waldorf private school. While more expensive than public shool, I believe she is getting a better education. Right now they are building teepees, and are discussing the angles that the support rods form, the fabric density required to stop water from penetrating, the crops that native americans would grow near their villages and how those plants evolved, etc.
Oct 21, 2008
While I agree that there are many problems with our current education system and what IS and ISN'T being taught, I disagree that the example you used to springboard into this topic is one that should be taught in schools.

Teaching boys to be husbands and fathers and girls to be wives and mothers should never fall to the eduction system. That should be the parents job. That it is not being taught (and I agree is is not) is probably one of the biggest problems in our world today. That there are people who believe it is the governments responsibility, or worst yet, want to take this responsibility from parents and give it to the government, is perhaps the scariest thing happening in society today.

When some politicians say, "It takes a village to raise a child", what they really mean is, "Give your child to us so that we can raise it to think what we want it to think". That is scary!

When our courts are taking child rearing decisions away from parents "For the good of society" (i.e. California ruling that Home Schooling is illegal because the child is not getting the 'approved' cirriculium). That is scary!

That so many people would rather let the government take the responsibility of raising and teaching these things to their children, because they are too lazy, too busy, or whatever. That is scary!
Oct 21, 2008
<I>I can imagine a school curriculum organized around building an imaginary house, advancing from first grade through high school.</I>

Why imaginary? Of course, you'd have to assign age-appropriate work, but there's nothing like a hands-on approach to encourage learning. One of the big problems with school is that kids work all day on stuff that's thrown out by the end of the week.
Oct 21, 2008
As the voice of reason, rationality and, on occassion the source of verifiable truth, is this stuff true, or just the usual pre-election boloney:

(Note that the video deals with the copies of the b-c's on the factcheck websites)
Oct 21, 2008
One thing that my friends and I have said is you need to PASS a course called "Common Sense 101". This would include things like balancing a check book, how to boil water, how to change a light bulb (wait for it to cool down before touching), what to do if something electrical falls into water (unplug it first), etc. It would be a mandatory course offered for every high school student, and you can't graduate without it. If you take a GED, you would also have to pass this course. That would solve a lot of problems caused by the in-duh-viduals in this country.
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Oct 21, 2008
You said:
"Kids also learn nothing about the importance of a positive outlook, especially how it affects other people. They don't learn about setting goals, or managing risk, ..."

But these things are taught -- the Scouts are a great resource for teaching our children many new skills, including organization and budgeting.

Oct 21, 2008
You could work history into it - how did the Romans build houses? How about the native Americans?
Oct 21, 2008
I totally agree Scott. Many of my classmates had the same complaint I did when in high school - Why am I learning this, I'll never use it.

When I came out of high school I should have known how to balance a cheque book and apply for a job, hunt for an apartment, read a rental agreement, and many others. Reading Jane Ayre and Shakespeare really didn't do anything for me except teach me that I really DID NOT want to do English Lit! :)

After driving for over 20 years I believe that Canadian schools should do what many American schools do (or did, I have no idea if they still do) and that is teaching kids to drive - or even if they can't get a track and cars - the rules of the road.

The public school system should be about preparing you for the real world, not just a 12 year prep for University.
Oct 21, 2008
Would anyone here argue that it is not useful to have a computer that could more accurately predict the weather? Or the stock market? If you can accept that that would be useful, then you're pointing out the fallacy in this argument. Quantum computers aren't being invented by accountants or engineers, they're being worked on by mathematicians and physicists. And they require very theoretical mathematics. If we required that before something could be taught that there has to be a current application for it, we would be decades behind where we are in quantum computing research. Can you tell me what practical application eigenvectors have? Or why group theory is important? I would guess that most people cannot see the necessity of either of these examples, yet they're incredibly important and applied. Take a look at complex numbers even, if we didn't have them then electronics as we know it would not work. (They show us that an exponential can be a sinusoidal oscillation). All these practical uses, from some very non concrete math.
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Oct 21, 2008
Is there any chance that you'd want to share the details of your new kitchen? I'm building a house too (in northen Mexico), groundbreaking starts next week and even though I've got a kitchen design that I feel comfortable with (my favorite hobbie is cooking), I would love to see what someone as practical like you has planned.
Oct 21, 2008
Language - yeah, you'd better have some language skills to communicate with all those different contractors. And it would be helpful if you spoke Spanish, since a lot of the folks building houses are from Latin America. And you'd better know how to put together a document / contract / purchase order, etc. And don't forget all that math / accounting for budget and payroll.

The biggest problem with schools are some of the teachers. Due to the unionization of education, and tenure, the bad teachers are never weeded out and there is no monetary incentive to make the teachers help students excel. Why work that hard if you're going to get a raise no matter what?

Thankfully, there are some truly gifted teachers that can make the most boring subjects come alive and spark interest in students who have not voluntarily showed interest in something academic since Sesame Street. It is their passion that makes me have hope for America's educational system. I just wish there were more like them.
Oct 21, 2008
Such a curriculum would obviously discriminate against renters and the homeless.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 21, 2008
You are entirely missing the point of school. The point of school has never been to learn that mylonite is a breccieated metamorphic rock frequently found in a fault zone. The point of school is to learn HOW to learn.

I high school I took an AP history and an AP Government class, and they were both full of info that I doubt I'll use much (except for voting). But they taught me how to think critically, how to write, and how to defend the positions I took on issues. I'm a college student now, and the skills I learned while learning about history and gpvernment have become invaluble.

Another thing schools do is teach kids how to interact with other people, which is why I think that home schooled kids are being screwed over.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 21, 2008
Looks like I get to be the guy that says, "It already exists."

"If I had a Hammer" is a cross-curriculum unit used by museums and some elementary schools to introduce to students the application of all the book-learnin' they get fed. At the end of the classroom/workbook portion of the unit the students construct a real structure- a large playhouse with functioning windows and a door.

Ironically, no actual hammers are used in the construction of the house.
Oct 21, 2008
You have just described how quite a few homeschool families do their curriculum.
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