We’ve spent 130 years indoctrinating kids with the same structure. Now, as some of us enter a post-lockdown world, I’d like to propose a useful (though some might say radical) way to reimagine the curriculum:
It’s been a century of biology, chemistry, arithmetic, social studies and the rest. So long that the foundational building blocks are seen as a given, unquestioned and unimproved. The very structure of the curriculum actually prevents school from working as it should.
I think that a significant shift is overdue. The one below could work for kids from the age of 6. It doesn’t eliminate the fundamentals of being educated, but it puts them into context. More important, because it’s self-directed and project-based, kids can choose to learn, instead of being forced to.
We’re living in the age of an always-connected universal encyclopedia and instantly updated fact and teaching machine called the Net. This means that it’s more important to want to know the answer and to know how to look it up than it is to have memorized it when we were seven. Given the choice between wasting time and learning, too many people have been brainwashed into thinking that learning is somehow onerous or taxing.
Introducing the modern curriculum
The basic foundation is student-centered, self-directed projects. In service of learning to solve interesting problems and how to lead as well as follow. And to support that, the “courses” are practical tools students can use on their projects.
Statistics–seeing the world around us clearly and understanding nuance, analog results and taxometrics (learning how to sort like with like). Realizing that everyone and everything doesn’t fit into a simple box. Learning to see the danger of false labels and propaganda, and the power of seeing how things are actually distributed.
Games–finite and infinite, poker, algorithms, business structures, interpersonal relationships, negotiation, why they work and when they don’t. We all play them, even when they’re not called games.
Communication–listening and speaking, reading and writing, presentations, critical examination and empathy. Can you read for content? Can you write to be understood? Can you stand up and express yourself, and sit still and listen to someone else who is working to be heard? What happens when we realize that no one is exactly like us?
History and propaganda–what happened and how we talk about it. More why than when. The fundamental currents of human events over time.
Citizenship–Participating, leading, asking and answering good questions. As a voter, but also as a participant in any organization.
Real skills–Hard to measure things like honesty, perseverance, empathy, keeping promises, trust, charisma, curiosity, problem solving and humor.
The scientific method–understanding what we know and figuring out how to discover the next thing. Learning to do the reading and show your work. There’s no point in memorizing the Krebs Cycle.
Programming–thinking in ways that a computer can help you with. From Excel and Photoshop to C++.
Art–expressing yourself with passion and consistency and a point of view. Not because it’s your job, but because you can and because it matters. Appreciating the art that has come before and creating your own, in whatever form that takes.
Decision-making–using the rest of the skills above to make better choices.
Meta-cognition–thinking about thinking, creating habits with intention.
Here’s my question: If you could work for someone who had these skills, developed over the course of a decade or more of public school, would you want to? What about working next to them, or having them work for you? Or dating them? Or living next door or voting for them?
If this is what we need and what we value, why aren’t we teaching it?