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
Thanks you Scott. One of the most inspiring pieces I've read in a very long time. I think some of the people missed the point here, Scott isn't saying that Math isn't relevant, he's just saying that the way it's being taught is. And with this different approach you link Math to real life and pick up a few social essentials that people are missing out when they grow up.

I relate to this post so much :)
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Oct 21, 2008
It is probably true, but are all these facts so useless?

I, for one, find it very useful to know that mylonite is a breccieated metamorphic rock frequently found in a fault zone (to also recycle a phrase), or more generally, to know about continental drift, when confronted to the theory that the world has been created in 7 days.

On the same level, critical thinking is of absolutely no use to you when looking at a pyramid scheme if you do not understand the mathematical mechanism it is built upon.

Have we already forgotten how long it took to teach people that AIDS cannot be transmitted by breathing the same air? Was it useless in reducing the amount of discrimination AIDS infected people suffer from?

I think that more importantly than the absence of critical thinking, schools need to fight obscurantism, because it is far from gone.

And believing that knowledge has to be obviously useful to be actually useful is just another example.
Oct 21, 2008
Scott, things HAVE progressed somewhat. Going "back to school" as a parent governor, I'm amazed at how much more relevant the lessons are.

The biggest point of inertia is of course that the syllabus is designed by a government who left school decades ago and who (living in the unreal world of politics) don't see why what was good for them needs to be changed. You could also perhaps wonder whether "critical thinking" is a skill that politicians REALLY want in the next generation of voters......!
Oct 21, 2008
You could talk about the history of houses--castles, tepees, Viking longhouses, all the way up to current designs. It would be hard to do language/literature this way, though. And most of the rest of history.
Oct 21, 2008
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