June 30, 2008

What Should Children Learn in School?

Sometimes I spend the quiet moments of my life lost in thought about questions that I anticipate being asked by my children. Lying awake in bed I stare at the ceiling and think about what they find important and interesting and try to come up with an appropriate response.

An appropriate response, now there is the trick. I could use the fallback “because I said so” or defer to the “why do you think” trick and leave it at that. In fact, I sometimes think that time before I drift off to sleep might be better suited for dreams about me and her on that deserted beach, but that is a post for a different time. ;)

The truth is that I have come to really enjoy these exercises. Some of these questions deal with topics that I haven’t really considered in years and years. What might have worked for the 15-year-old boy I was doesn’t always work for the guy I am today. And so in the quiet of the night I find myself mulling over all sorts of stuff.

Lately I have been focusing on how to answer questions about school. All sorts of different topics are floating around inside my skull:

1) Why are book reports important?
2) Why should you know the names of the capitals of every state?
3) What purpose is there in knowing how to work with parabolas and hyperbolas?
4) Why should people read Shakespeare or any of the classics?

I wonder how many people can really come up with reasonable answers.

All of this talk begs the question of what sort of curriculum do I want for my children. If I had complete control what would I want included? Are there things that I would exclude? What is my bottom line? What is really important?

I can come up with general list, but just how specific can I get. I think that I might sit down and work it all out.

11 comments:

V-Grrrl said...

I sometimes tell my kids the exact content that they're learning may not be important, but what is important is the act of learning and processing information, the challenge of solving problems, and training the mind to explore different points of view and perspective. Being able to manage details, see the Big Picture, memorize information, express an idea clearly, see relationships between things that don't seem related--that's the most important part of education. I live in a state that has rigid standards on exactly what kids should know at every grade level and the standards tests evaluate both student and teacher performance. I have issues with that whole concept.

tamaraeden said...

Hey Jack,

I was going to say that book reports are important because they help us choreograph many skills we are learning. We read, process, write, analyze, critique, and the put it all down. It's like practicing dance moves over and over until you finally have the full dance ready to be performed--the report.

Shakespeare can teach us so much about the history of a specific place during a specific time. We learn from Midsummer Night's Dream that hunger and poverty cause people to do strange things and to behave curiously (Bottom). We learn in the Tempest the power of relationships and racism. In Othello there are messages again of racism, respect, adultery, and the challenges that come from class systems.

Parabolas??? Can't help you there...

Capitals and states? Eh, I have mixed feelings there too; however, as you become an active member of society and pay attention to what is going on in the world, in our country, knowing where things are will perhaps help you understand better.

Anyway...I was going to say all this...but really there is no need as v-grrrl said it so much better.

susanne said...

In addition to what you've listed, I would want my child to learn to read music, learn to play an instrument, and learn a foreign language.

Kol Ra'ash Gadol said...

1) Why are book reports important?
2) Why should you know the names of the capitals of every state?
3) What purpose is there in knowing how to work with parabolas and hyperbolas?
4) Why should people read Shakespeare or any of the classics?


Well, I would agree with V-girl on this. State capitals etc - I'm not sure that anything that can be looked up is all that important. OTOH, it is important to learn something about the world we live in. I would just argue that there are better ways to do that.. problem is that they all require more work on the part of the teacher and the student than memorizing a bunch of names and major exports.

Shakespeare though - that's easy. Two things: the great classical works give us a shared - and rich- language. Knowing who Hamlet was and what his dilemma, or who the witches of Macbeth were gives us a common secular tongue and a library of metaphor to draw from. For that reason, it's important for atheists to read the Bible, and Jews to red the Christian scriptures. Because those stories are part of our common library of metaphors, ideas and images.
2. Because reading (and analyzing) literature gives us the ability to a. empathize with those very unlike us b. imagine worlds very different than our own c. think about why things are the way they are and how they could be different d. develop imagination and curiosity about the world - adn especially about how events have multiple causes and effects, and how we can thik about them.

Rivster said...

Ditto.

States and capitals really do help give us a sense of the rest of the country. To be honest, we should know the providences of Canada and states of Mexico as well given that they are our neighbours!

Learning how to a report instills research skills and critical thinking that help us throughout life. I had the hardest social studies teacher for the 7th AND
8th grades. She was one tough lady. BUT the skills she taught and the level of work she expected from us laid the foundation that enabled me to write papers and eventually even my rabbinic thesis.

So as my 2nd grade son was working on his first (of many) book reports this year, I was reminded of the import of the exercise.

Rivster said...

Oh -- and what's a parabola again??

BEAJ said...

I can tell you what you don't want a kid to "learn"

And that is creationism in a science class.

SuperRaizy said...

Exposing a child to a variety of concepts and disciplines (literature, art, mathematics, etc.) teaches him that there is a vast world of knowledge out there waiting for him. Even if some of what we learn in school has no practical value for most people (parabolas?), he will come to understand that he is free to pursue the areas that DO interest him (hence- majoring in a specific subject in college).
In other words- there's lots of great stuff out there to learn about, kid- what would YOU like to pursue?

Anonymous said...

That's why I chose to homeschool our daughter! I wanted to decide the curriculum. I wanted to decide which adults would be her role models. I wanted our beliefs and values to shape her education. I didn't want the "great California Cultural Eclectic" to be the default position. I wanted to seamlessly integrate Yiddishkeit into all aspects of education.
I wanted to teach my daughter that time is one of the most precious gifts we have. Wasting time is criminal! I wanted her to have time to discover and pursue her own passions, at her own pace. Of course, she's not a master of all things. NO ONE is. In any school there are some excellent teachers and excellent programs. They're also mediocre ones. My daughter is now 21 and homeschooling has been the biggest blessing in both our lives. As an added bonus, homeschooling builds strong family relationships.

Kol Ra'ash Gadol said...

Afterthought:
parabolas ... good if you play baseball! I think.

Jack said...

R^@$^$^@$#^T computer just crashed killing some thoughtful responses to your comments.

but what is important is the act of learning and processing information, the challenge of solving problems, and training the mind to explore different points of view and perspective. Being able to manage details, see the Big Picture, memorize information, express an idea clearly, see relationships between things that don't seem related--that's the most important part of education.

Agreed.

Tamara,

Hadn't thought of book reports that way, makes sense.

Susanne,

The ability to speak more than one language offers so very much.

KRG,

Memorization offers a number of benefits- I would suspect that if serves as the foundation of some critical components of a number of topics.

Rivster,

Being able to research and write a good reports is important.

Beaj,

Amen. ;)

Raizy,

Certainly it helps to give the child an idea of what they might want to learn about.

I didn't want the "great California Cultural Eclectic"

What does that mean?

KRG,

Not so sure about that one.