So what do kids need to learn in school, really? Unlike the unschooling movement, I do think there are some things that everyone should know by the time they are 18, and I think that school done right could get us there. If I think about what I would want my kids to know by the time they grow up, I think a good start would be there following:
- To be prepared to be active citizens. As cynical as it sounds in this day of hyperpartisanship, I really think it’s important for everyone to have the skills to participate in democracy–and the knowledge to understand why it’s important. This means being able to think critically about the issues that affect our community and our country, to make decisions in keeping with their values. It means knowing how government works: both politics, and the more mundane work of governing. And it means knowing our country’s history, because of how it shapes the present.
- To know the world is big. Ideally, this would encompass knowing both some superficial knowledge of geography, as well as going more deeply into the language and culture of one country or region.
- To understand how to manage their own finances. And something about how the economy works as a whole.
- To be curious about the world around them. More than any particular scientific tidbit, I would like them to know that the scientific method is how we learn about the natural world, and that it all starts with being observant.
- To know how their bodies work, and how to stay healthy.
- To appreciate that the arts teach us about ourselves and the world in a different way. Again, more than any particular form or work, to be open to different forms of expression and to have some sense of how to approach ones that are unfamiliar.
- To be ready for life on their own. Not so much in the home-ec sense, although there is clearly a need for that too. More in the domains that fall under “noncognitive skills”: how to perservere at something that seems boring, how to delay gratification, how to act towards others. And also, how to recognize where our education falls short, and how to self-educate and fill in the gaps.
This list conspicuously omits math and reading. That’s because I think that to be able to do everything on this list, math and reading are skills to be used, not subjects in and of themselves. I’ll flesh out more of how this might play out in subsequent posts…