Here is a question many of you would probably consider a bit whimsical, if not heretical; but I assure you, it has a dead serious intent.  If you were education czar, what would YOU require be taught (or not taught) in American schools?

Let me get you started.  Here are three things that I believe SHOULD be taught but AREN’T: metric system; evolution; critical thinking.

And here are three that ARE being taught, but SHOULDN’T: spelling; long division; propaganda.

My full list is much longer; but I would like to hear your thoughts.  If I get responses, I am prepared to vigorously defend my philosophical positions.

Also, what do you think should be the ultimate goals of education?  As a teacher for 36 years, mine were the development of ATTITUDES; specifically - responsibility, self-reliance, creativity, initiative, integrity; and most of all - the value of hard work.  And repeated testing/grading do NOTHING to inculcate these values.  I hate to say it, but most American teachers test and grade in order to avoid the hard work of teaching 40 kids in a classroom.  That’s not entirely their fault, though.  It is the fault of the entire 19th century paradigm under which our education system stuggles, impotently, to succeed. 

By the way: Sal Khan ROCKS!   

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Comment by kris feenstra on October 15, 2012 at 9:16pm

Long division? Hmm, I don't have an issue with that being in the curriculum myself. I still use it. I wouldn't teach spelling he way it is taught past the basics. Some of the mnemonics are misleading, and I don't generally agree with memorize and regurgitate.

I grew up in a different school system, so the metric system was taught from the beginning. Evolution was also taught in school (without mention of ID), although it could have been more in depth as it is the backbone of biology. There wasn't a ton of propaganda, but there were omissions to the history curriculum. Civics wasn't taught at all, and I'm not sure how well it is taught these days. To my mind, the primary focus of civics should be arming children for the future. It's more important to know which rights the Constitution Act secures than it is to know when it passed.

The major thing I would change is raising the reputation of vocational/ trade schools. Up until grade ten I thought a voc school was a type of juvenile reform program. I don't agree with academic elitism. Both academics and trades require ability, dedication, knowledge and passion. They should be held in equal regard (which was not the impression I was given growing up). 

I disagree with SAT style testing in high school, and if I was king dictator of education, I'd probably revise grading on the whole. Testing and grading can be useful, but getting an 'A' shouldn't be the end goal of education. My mother teaches high school bio, and she tries her hardest to improve the students' ability to learn instead of just feeding their grade lust. How many students will need to know the Krebs cycle past the final exam? Not too many. How many will need good learning skills? All of them. Her class is pretty tough, but you can still be successful without getting an amazing grade.

I could go on and on, but I won't. My feeling more and more is that education is taken for granted here, and changing the educational system alone can't account for the all of the problems it faces. No system will ever be perfect.

Comment by Becca on October 16, 2012 at 2:12am

The metric system, evolution, and critical thinking are taught in many schools throughout the US. Long division and spelling certainly need to remain in the curriculum, how they are taught needs to  be changed. Alternatives to the standard mathematical algorithms and a better understanding of the whys behind math need to be taught. Phonics needs to become more prevalent or reintroduced into the curriculum, the whole word method is crap and harms students who's academic success is already at risk by nonacademic factors. There have been some teachers known to attempt to propagandize children in school however this is not institutionalized nor is it as common as many like to claim it is.


Testing in the form that it is most often used in schools (standardized testing, fill in the bubble crap) is detrimental to both the students and the teachers. Testing should be a tool to measure student improvement over time and to determine where the future curriculum is going to go. Testing should also take into account the thought processes behind the answers not just whether or not the final answer is right or wrong.

I think the biggest problems with the US education system as it stands are:

- Student to teacher ratios. All classrooms should be smaller than what seems to be the standard of 40 students. Smaller class size = greater student acheivment becuase students get more attention.
- Standardized fill in the bubble tests that neither measure student improvement nor takes into account the student's thought processes.
- Poverty and/or bad parenting situations. Unfortuneatly this is not sometning that even a stellar school system can fix. These are societal issues that the US really sucks at addressing.
- The push for everyone to go to college. College really isn't for everyone. There are many post-highschool paths to success that students need to be aware of.
- Attitudes about education. Thinking education is worthless is a self fulfilling prophecy. A students attitude is huge, the teacher can only do so much (we aren't maricle workers). You can't teach someone who is unwilling to be taught or who is unwilling to make any efffort.
- K-5th grade being taught by non-specialized teachers. Any given 3rd grade teacher is expected to teach every subject to their 3rd grade students. I think grede school need to be run more like middle/highschools and subjects be taught by teachers who are sepcialized in certain subjects.
- Lack of exposure to other languages and cultures. I think second language learning should happen in every school begining in kindergarten. We have the resources and people to begin really teaching spanish to students throughout the USA. Really I don't care what language a school takes on and teaches its students so long as they are learning a second language.
- No tolerance policies. They leave no room for nuance.
- Lack of recess. The younger the kid the more run around non-structured time they need. I think a lot of behavioral issues in kids could be alleviated by giving them apmple time to move their bodies. Also, play is very important to the learning process, the younger they are the more important play is.
- The blame the teacher attitude. There are many problems in the US edcuation system. No system is ever going to be perfcet for everyone subject to it. I'd like to see everyone take a step back and stop blaming teachers for everyting and look at the system teachers work under and look at the societal problems that affect education. I think most educational problems stem from societal problems and problems with the current education system, not with the teachers themselves.

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on October 16, 2012 at 12:52pm

Home Economics – that is the basics of food preparation and cooking. Built into this would be facts about nutrition and healthy eating.

Religion –The history of them. It could promote an understanding for and an appreciation of the diversity of them.  However no religion to be given preference over another or taught as a specific subject. This is what Dan Dennett calls the fourth “R”.

Speed reading and study skills – note taking, revision, exam prep etc.

Comment by archaeopteryx on October 16, 2012 at 6:33pm

A course in critical thinking is definitely high on the list. Religions could be addressed in a general philosophy course. A sex Ed class is a must. I wouldn't mind seeing what I would have to call a Life Skills course, that would teach on the fundamentals of what it takes for human beings to peacefully coexist with each other, including Debate, Negotiation, the Art of Compromise, off the top of my head, and I'm sure I could add many others if I were doing this as an actual project.

Comment by Tom on October 16, 2012 at 9:02pm

If you live in Texas, you'll have a little opposition on teaching critical thinking.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/texas-gop-rej...

Comment by Ed on October 16, 2012 at 10:19pm

The fine folks in Texas who were on the school textbook advisory board seemed it was necessary to omit a Mr. T. Jefferson from the textbooks. Seems his deistic stance supporting separation of church and state was a bit too liberal for their agenda.

Norway has one of the top educational systems in the world. They do VERY LITTLE testing. They instead concentrate on developing "life skills" for their students. Heavy vocational studies are emphasized. They concentrate on developing the skills an individual needs to succeed in life from a practical standpoint. They also spend little time supporting religion and it's baggage of unbelievable fantasies.  

So what does everyone think about all the foreign money being invested in America to buy, control, and run the increasing number of charter schools?

Comment by archaeopteryx on October 16, 2012 at 10:48pm

@Tom - there are still 2 1/2 months left, and anything can happen, but you may well have made the understatement of the year.

See Ed's statement, below --

Comment by SteveInCO on October 16, 2012 at 11:49pm

Something else that would be useful is money management, so as to give people the tools they need not to overextend themselves in debt.

Kris mentioned vocational schools.  Ideally by the time you get through eighth grade, you'd know enough arithmetic to get by and be able to read at, well, what NOW would be a tenth grade level but was probably a sixth grade level a hundred years ago.  You could then go on either an academic (college prep) or vocational track.  Or leave school entirely and still be somewhat educated.  My high school had vestiges of this system 30 years ago; there were three or four hour classes on electronics, shop, and auto repair that were obviously vocational in nature.  (What I did not agree with was that both sorts of education got identical diplomas; you should be able to tell what someone did.)  Many perfectly bright people just aren't suited for the academic life, but will be very good mechanics, and that is no job for morons; troubleshooting is a difficult skill

Of course with our increasingly technical and complex civilization, college itself is divided into what might as well be considered a vocational and an academic track; engineering and business schools are vocational at the undergraduate level and medical school is vocational at the post grad level.  This is in no way a ding on college for not being purely academic, nor is it a sign they are doing work that high school ought to be doing (though that is unfortunately true), it's a sign that we are more and more technologically advanced and some lines of work need more and more technical training.  You simply aren't ready to start studying engineering with even my ideal 8th grade education;  it's dicey enough starting to teach it when people are still in pre-calc or calculus.

A large part of the problem today is that just about every job, no matter how menial, wants to see a high school diploma.  That puts pressure on high schools to graduate people who, decades ago, wouldn't have *been* in high school.  Likewise the increasing demand for a college degree, because high school diplomas have been devalued.

I disagree that reducing class size will necessarily improve student achievement; I think many methodologies used today are wrong and will remain wrong no matter how few students a teacher has (someone mentioned whole word reading...).  I think we'd see more more improvement with class sizes remaining where they are and better methodology, than leaving the methodology in place and reducing class size.  Either way, it's simply crap that half of a school's budget is spent on administration.  We'd be better off not spending that money at all and giving the taxpayers a break than paying those administrators, and better off not spending that money than simply hiring more teachers and requiring them to continue using the broken methodologies.

The system COULD work smarter with less money... but political pressures from the unions, and educational "fads" pushed by education schools (which, by the way statistically have the least stellar students in college, training to go teach--and as with all statistics there are exceptions) will prevent this from happening.

Comment by Unseen on October 17, 2012 at 8:47am

Okay, I'm intrigued. What is so pernicious about teaching grammar and long division (addition, subtraction, multiplication, trigonometry, and calculus apparently escaping criticism for some reason).

Comment by Unseen on October 17, 2012 at 8:54am

I do believe that a lot of what has changed in the U.S. education system over the last five decades or so has a lot to do with the degradation of the American student's ability to form well-structured sentences, to spell, to think critically, and so on. Let's also add the degradation of the principle of in loco parentis. Gee, whenever a school disciplines a student anymore, it seems they can expect a parent showing up demanding that their perfect little child be immune from any serious school discipline, 

If schools think differently about things than their parents and can enforce standards differently from their parents, this is a good life lesson: different standards apply in different places and later in life their parents won't be there to rescue them. I'm not talking about outright abuse, but if the school has a dress code that doesn't allow kids to wear political slogans or brand name logos, this is an example of the sort of matter parents should stay out of. The school should be immune.

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