Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Irrelevant Education

Innovative Educator tweeted and and bunch of people re-Tweeted:
"I don't believe ALL students need the same thing. Nearly all of what I was forced to learn in HS was irrelevant."
Really?  Let's see, English, Math, Science, History, Languages, Fine Arts, Vo-Tech.

Yep.  Useless.

To an alternative education blogger, I suppose, but not for anyone who actually needs to think for a living.

Everyone needs to focus on a different path through life but that most of the stuff we "force" people to learn in HS provides a valuable foundation for the education that's really important to our students.

HS Requirements serve two purposes.

The first is to make sure that idealistic teenagers who pretend to have a clue are "forced" to experience certain things.  Most teenagers have no idea of their own strengths or weaknesses, have little experience with life, have never gotten out of their comfort zone nor have they really done much of importance. They can't be trusted to know what's good for them to the point of total control over their education. They are only just realizing who they are and what they like.  They will avoid work even though they might enjoy it after all.

Second, and probably more importantly, requirements are society's way of saying "This is what we feel is important, these ideas and concepts are good ones, and this manner of thinking is the sign of a mature mind." We understand that teenagers aren't there yet ... hell, lots of adults aren't there yet, but that doesn't mean we give up at the first sign of rebellion in a teenager.  We all have sat down and lamented not applying ourselves when we were younger and so we (the community and the teachers and the School Board) set up the HS program to be sure that we at least introduce teenagers to the things that we as adults have found we need.

We need to understand that no one will be successful at everything and teenagers are no different.  We can't expect that every kid will be successful at math (or poetry, or science, or writing), but we have to try so that we can be sure that it's not just adolescent stubbornness. We have to try to nurture the artist in the mathematician and the math-geek in the musician.  They don't know their strengths.  Yet.

This is why HS is a requirement.  That's why there's 4 years of English, 3 years of math, etc.  These aren't the sum total of education, they're only the minimums, the first milestones on the road to a better life. We teachers know that some of this is "boring" but we're in the position of teaching dribbling to the beginning soccer player ... the game is confounding without that basic skill. We also know that students will regress in all the courses they don't like so we push them to level 5, knowing that the regression to level 3 is better than teaching to level 3 and regressing to 0.  We can't pave the entire road but we can make enough steps that students can go back and fill in as needed when they realize the necessity.

It is this point that the alternative education people get wrong so often.  They are too often giving up on the children they are supposed to be teaching, following the child who is wandering lost instead of leading the way. "He's just misunderstood. He's got an alternate knowledge base. He's just as intelligent but not in an academic way and you're trying to shoehorn him into things he hates.  Bad teacher."

True, many geniuses felt that school was boring and pointless, but that's because they already understood, didn't like the repetition, and wanted to move on. Penn Jillette is a great example. School might have been irrelevant to him but the education wasn't.

Just because YOU didn't see the purpose of everything in school, it's not because you are a misunderstood genius, too. It's much more likely that you're just a spoiled and willfully ignorant child.
~ Curmudgeon.


  1. Just chiming in to say, I agree. I may not use information I learned in school everyday, but the knowledge helps to form a basis for thoughts and decisions made throughout my entire life. I also don't remember everything I read about things I love, but that doesn't mean it can't be important or spur other types of thinking. The issue I see with a lot of what she (and other like her say) is they hold up exceptions and want to make a rule.

  2. "It's much more likely that you're just a spoiled and willfully ignorant child." I want this in poster size for my classroom, please.

    Adults who claim that they haven't used a fraction of what they learned in high school forget that they are still alive and are still learning. But that's an optimistic view, it's more likely that they are too dense to appreciate the connections they do make using the "irrelevant" stuff from HS.

  3. Poster size ... lemme think. CafePress, maybe? Must explore this idea.

  4. I agree up to a point. But when a student is spending more time resisting the college prep curriculum than s/he is spending doing the work, I think we should offer her/him a more vocational program, on the theory that motivated, intense learning of almost anything is better than avoidance of the mainstream curriculum.

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