Education is not just the three R's. It goes way beyond learning just the material that was forced on you at an early age.
Learning is important. We hear that it is from our politicians, teachers, parents, peers. But they couldn't be more wrong. Because what is learned is so much more important than merely learning or learning what is only perceived to be appropriate knowledge. And learning US history, English literature, trigonometry, chemistry, biology is a complete waste of time . . . if in learning them you are simply doing what you are told. (I had a student come to me with a serious problem: habitual procrastination. I told her to stop doing what she was told and get to doing what she loves. End of procrastination.) Here again comes in the importance of listening to that intuitive voice from within. Herein lies your answers. Specifically, what you are to learn.
I hope I'm making myself clear. Certainly, learning is one of the most important things that we can do while on this earth, outside of eating, sleeping and breathing. Three of my favorites. But why do we need to learn the above mentioned disciplines if we know we don't like them (we forget 80% of what we read in 24 hours, and much faster if we don't like the subject), will never use them, and don't know why we're learning them in the first place. Do teachers even know why they teach what they are teaching? If they can't give a good explanation, then how do they expect their students to care about, never mind retain the information they dispense? I don't remember a single teacher telling me why I was learning French, Latin, algebra, US history, biology, and so on. I remember being told by my chemistry teaching that because I was not doing well in his class life would be difficult for me. Well, I'd like to tell him that life's difficulties were there whether I did well in chemistry or not.
But in a day and age in which the cost of living is escalating, what is the point of taking precious time to learn anything that is not going to be of direct benefit? If you need mathematics for your job or career, by all means, learn it. But if you're not going to be using more than basic arithmetic, find no interest in math whatsoever, you break out in a sweat when math is even mentioned, why should you be required to take geometry, trigonometry, algebra?
What percentage of students go beyond using basic arithmetic after high school?
Let's be practical. It's wishful thinking to believe that the majority will use higher math. Of course, the desire by our government to encourage more math and science centered students is merely economical. It believes that the more people we can get into high-tech jobs the more competitive (read more money) we'll be. Bottom line, we'll catch up with those six countries we lag behind.
Certainly there are jobs in major occupational groups such as computer and mathematical; architecture and engineering; life, physical, and social sciences; but according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics that's roughly about 5% of the labor force, give or take a few percentage points. The majority of jobs are in management, sales, healthcare, protective services, food preparation and service, office and administrative support, construction, maintenance, production, and transportation. Sure, I'd like an ideal world where we all have great paying, challenging jobs (utilizing high-end math skills), but it's not practical. The majority of jobs don't require anything beyond arithmetic, something the majority of politicians, school board members, and parents don't talk about. And believing that marketing and selling math and science will work, forget it, I've seen the level of math anxiety of anti-math students. It's not a realistic fit. And also consider that less than a third of incoming college freshman are proficient, I said proficient, in basic math and writing skills, therein lies a major inhibitor in the belief that we are going to get a bunch of math and science students to fill the void.
There's also the argument that students need to experiment with math to determine if they have the skill, and it may be something that they can use later in life. Well, certainly true ; however, it should be obvious early on whether a student has an affinity, talent or liking for math. If so, sure, keep training him or her. Nevertheless, the majority won't and don't use high end math. Bottom line.
What I'm trying to get at here is the following question: in regards to education, what is essential and necessary for the majority of individuals seeking an education? The important word here is "majority." I know earlier I spoke of finding what you need to learn based on personal desire and interest, but there are some things that we all need to learn. Let me digress for a moment to clarify my point.
There was a physicist by the name of Richard Feynman who believed that if physics is so important more than a handful of elite should be able to comprehend its basics. He wrote a book titled Six Easy Pieces that explains these fundamentals. He felt that if physics is of great value, he should be able to teach the basics to incoming freshman. It didn't work out that way but he had the right idea. If it is of value, the majority should have access to and understand what is being taught. Getting back to learning, let's see how this concept applies.
What information, knowledge, understanding should the majority be steeped in? What must one learn in order to maximize one's potential to succeed in career, family, society, life?
First there is one's occupation, so the fundamentals of one's chosen occupation must be learned. But how and when does the student discover his or her career or occupation of choice? It is vital that the focus on the student's likes, interests, talents, affinities, begin early and often, that by the time a student reaches junior year he or she should know to a great degree and be encouraged to the same degree to pursue a career or occupation of interest. What is more important? Consider that within 10 years 70% of college graduates are not working in a field related to their degree, this may save a lot of wasted time, money, and effort. How many students go into a particular field based too much on a whim, what their parents, teachers, friends, society has told them to go into. Not that any education goes down the drain, but let's be more cost effective and career effective.
Next of concern are interrelationships-intimate and platonic-for they are a constant in life: family, peers, spouse, employer / employee, public. And it is amazing that there are absolutely no courses offered in this essential aspect of our daily lives. What of marriage and the total lack of understanding by most of its responsibilities and challenges? Certainly parents should be at the forefront of this education in relationships, but it is not something that is common knowledge-or at least knowledge based on efficient parent / child, child / parent, spouse / spouse relationships. Why this important aspect of our education is just winged by unknowing parents is beyond comprehension.
Next are financial concerns, another subject that is neglected in our schools. And I'm not talking about classes that teach students how to balance their checkbook, but the concerns of cost of living and what type of job / career and investments will enable them to live comfortably. How to spend and to keep their spending under control. Credit and its epidemic concern. An understanding of finances is essential to any person, young and old. Understanding the miracle of compound interest is essential. Einstein called it "the greatest mathematical discovery of all time." If a child begins investing at a young age, she will want for little by the time she reaches her thirties. Yet how many are trained in the realities of or need for investments? or an understanding of the world economy and its effect on jobs and careers? the truth about the government and its effect on the same? on and on.
And what of a political education? In a democracy, where choice is paramount, what of a sustained need to educate students about the Constitution, politics, political offices, laws and their types, bills, bonds, propositions, and so on. Why should we rely on self-education here? or as is more often the case, no education. And certainly there are classes taught here, but they are often dry and lacking practical application. There is a dire need to teach an appreciation and understanding of those who sacrificed lives to produce a government that is far from perfect but has formed a country with great economic strength and opportunity.
Finally, what of the realities of failure and success? What of teaching students essential success skills? What of teaching students to be industrious, self-sacrificing, honest, cooperative, never mind the realities of ever present failure and the necessity of understanding its teaching them to overcome obstacles, to learn patience, honor, compassion, perseverance, on and on.
I go into these concerns and more in much greater depth in my upcoming book Education is a Waste of Time.
There is so much more that our school systems need to do in order to prepare our students, enable our students for greater success. These are the essentials that must be focused on and learned if our children are to be successful individually and in creating a better society. Yet if parents rely too much on our schools for the educating of our children then our children are certainly going to continue to be ill prepared, disappointed, and disillusioned by school, work, and society. God bless us to do what is right for future generations.