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
"I assume that showing appreciation is a learnable skill, just like saying please and thank you."

Teaching girls how not to nag? Hey, I'm on board with this. I also support government funded remedial education in this area too.

"Kids also learn nothing about the importance of a positive outlook..."

In this age of participation trophies, I think we may need to swing the other way.

Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts in this area and I agree with the overall gist, if not all the details.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 21, 2008
I'd pretty much say that the best teachers, and the most memorable ones, are the ones that teach you these essential but boring skills (ie scientific and mathematical method) but in a useful or interesting way. That might include using it in a story, or involve kids working on project style work, without just lecturing on the facts.

So in that regard, I guess you're right.

But teachers needs to be paid more. Theres no motivation for teachers to be that enthusiastic and influential in my opinion.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 21, 2008
Personally, what you're missing Scott from this is something that says how kids actually learn. Like the psychology of it... or the chemistry, I dunno, whatever it is that influences learning. Maybe this style of learning by building a house is useful and applies critical thought and practical knowledge... or maybe kids will come out of thinking that all they can do is build houses. And do we really need more houses? Who will want to want to become scientists or economists, eg.?

I have no basis for that, I'm just saying that as a skeptic I thought you'd want some more info. Perhaps this system of education is the best for learning and building our brains?

I think the family has a big role in the development of a child for some of the skill you mentioned, such as a successful marriage, or those basic social skills. And theres also the social part of schooling (other than homeschool), that is independent of the types of subjects. In that regard, the cooperation skills of building a house would be pretty beneficial.
Oct 21, 2008
What about even the most BASIC skills that are overlooked in school, like how to balance a checkbook?
A recent poll I read said the majority of college students were unable to understand the basics of credit card interest, and how to understand how much extra they'd pay if they didn't pay off their balance right away.

While I understand that stuff, I wish I'd been taught the basics of stocks/bonds/investing, what an IRA is, etc.

Oct 21, 2008
Scott - I think you have just laid out your next great project - a book for children.

I would buy it for my nieces and nephews.
Oct 21, 2008
I strongly agree with what you're saying. Start with the practical information that will make people better people and better citizens (you know, when they vote), and from there provide options to more theoretical learning for those that are interested and/or have an aptitude.

My pet theory (with no proper grounding or research) is that education suffers from in many ways having originated as a luxury for the rich and thus has descended from fluffy gentlemanly skills instead of growing up from actual useful information.
Oct 21, 2008

Many of these personal lessons are best taught in the context of reading and learning to understand literature -- which tends to be about people and relationships.
Oct 21, 2008
The work by Steven Pinker discussing how much of a "blank slate" we moist robots may all really be when we begin our lives is definitely worth watching.


Assuming everyone has the same potential given the same resources and classroom education may indeed be a very flawed approach, though as the speaker points out this has been a favorite theme of Anthropologists and Sociologists since the 1920's. I agree with the speaker that this doesn't mean the same opportunities aren't possible, it just may require a different approach for different kids - again, highlighting the importance of continuing the education at home with involved, interested, and informed parenting.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 21, 2008
I've always been a fan of teaching life skills in school. Unfortunately, it always gets political. Teach a kid how to balance his checkbook (math), how to grocery shop (budget), how to get their car's oil changed (responsibility), how to be a good team leader (management), teaching strategies (parenting), negotiation (marriage), etc...

Unfortunately, those topics all get political, and most can only be taught to kids in High School, at which points they are just balls of hormones. Literally, hormone molecules with legs. At least I think they're legs.

I do think that the show Myth Busters should create their own science curriculum for Middle and High Schools. Teach the underlying scientific method, not how many electrons does Einsteinium have.
Oct 21, 2008
Scott, all the things you mention kids need, like budgeting, negotiation, critical thinking - IT'S ALL LEARNED AT HOME, NOT IN SCHOOL!!

A parent's job is to teach this stuff to their kids. A mother needs to teach her sons what a woman needs, and a man needs to teach his son how to appreciate a woman. Unfortunately, most parents these days either have no idea, or aren't interested enough to make it happen.

And then people wonder why kids have so many problems...
Oct 21, 2008
Good idea. Now getting educators to go along would be a challenge. They are not taught in their teaching education many of these practical skills they would need to pass on to students in the classroom. Many teachers have only been teachers. It would require some creative curricula writing then selling it to the administration and parents.

There are already courses and programs in schools that offer this but they are not madatory across the board. Courses could include finance for highschool students, basic banking skills, life insurance basics, renting an apartment, legal issues for teenagers, how to handle a salesperson, scams and fraud, comparison shopping, budgeting and saving on a limited income and so on.

It is true that children from a very young age who are not good at basic math do better if a dollar sign is used.

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 21, 2008
The culture and family skills you mention are supposedly taught in the home. I can't think of any variation on relating to a spouse, making a marriage work, or even finding a spouse, that isn't guaranteed to offend some number of the parents of any given school district. Religion, culture, educational and sexual biases all offer potentially conflicting directions.

We know that Dr. Spock's devastatingly, tragically flawed Baby Book failed to teach parents what they need to know. As we can see that kids aren't learning what they need to know, and haven't for several generations.

But allowing the schools, the government, to standardize even more of the individual, family, and community cultural and social mores will do what Hitler did - "Let me take your children, and I will take your country."

I agree with the problem you cite, but please be careful with how to solve it.
Oct 21, 2008
Scott, it may be a while since you were at school, but most schools already try to organise their teaching around real world problems and contexts.

And many private schools do teach about relationships, gender roles, personal skills, etc.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 21, 2008
<i>Maybe we wouldn't be in this economic mess if all kids had to learn about budgeting, mortgage loans, and risk analysis.</i>

Or, if not all kids, at least all bankers learned something about budgeting, mortgage loans, and risk analysis.
Oct 21, 2008
This sounds terribly myopic for a Scott Adams post. :)

First, you seem to assume that kids only learn things in school. I'd guess school is #3 in terms of where one learns; #1 is at home, #2 among peers.

Most boys and girls learn how to treat the opposite sex primarily from their parents, secondarily from dating experiences. I shudder to think what a school relationships class would be like, and what would make someone with a teaching certificate qualified to lead that catastrophe. (I'm a certified teacher, and I could probably do it -- but that's coincidental.)

Second, the problem with the economy has little to do with understanding finances; it has more to do with being honest and content, as opposed to dishonest and greedy. If you find a school that turns out 100% honest, content graduates, let me know. I'll sign my kids up.
Oct 21, 2008
Great point Scott. Reminded me of this article on LifeHack.org recently that covered 8 essential skills they don't teach in school:


goal settings
emotional intelligence
how to get a mate!
some basic marketing, etc

Oct 21, 2008
The word is brecciated, derived from breccia. Typo, Scott, or were you just trying to see how many people would catch it?
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 21, 2008
I'm a bit taken aback by what seems to me to be willful obtuseness on your part, citing "...learning that mylonite is a breccieated (sic) metamorphic rock frequently found in a fault zone..." in bemoaning your concern that kids are being taught things they'll never use.

I'm sure you don't believe that any teacher can - or should - look over a group of children and decide the exact body of information each child is going to need in pursuit of whatever they deem to be that child's career and life tracks. Which one is going to turn out to be the hydrogeologist? If you aren't certain, then they all better get a little exposure to that area of science.

Certainly there are many practical skills that can, and doubtless ought to be added to public school curriculum to better prepare kids for life in the real world, but it needs to be admitted that one of the main goals of the process is to expose students to enough information about enough subjects that they'll be able to develop an informed opinion as to what they're interested in doing with their lives.

Such an opinion is not apt to proceed from a perspective limited by the lack of exposure to a wide range of subjects and ideas. I believe that there is really very little truly useless knowledge, but there are too many people who don't make use of knowledge.
Oct 21, 2008
How about teaching kids that there are consequenses for their actions. Teachers in younger grades almost never fail children anymore because it looks bad on them. Therefore, kids learn that if they slack off, they will get by anyway, these are not the people I want to be working with.

Everyday concepts are being ignored by the schools and parents, yes, I know BOCTAOE, common sense ideas like making money before you spend it. Kids learn from parents and TV that making a quick buck is the way to go. Thinking that if that guy who writes comics and drives the BMW hits me with his car, I'll sue him and be set for life. No work ethic, no moral compass, no thinking that you could die or end up in a wheelchair for life.

If you don't think these dumb kids will be running the country in a few years, then you have been asleep for the last 2 elections.
Oct 21, 2008
I laughed at the previous commenter's comment about homeschooling because the ideas you present in this post are a good illustration of one reason we are choosing to homeschool. The previous commenter wrote that the point of school is to teach kids how to learn. I don't see many schools succeeding in this goal.

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