10 Things All Kids Should Be Taught in School

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A typical mix of subjects at a school would include the STEM subjects, the Humanities / Social Sciences, and perhaps a spattering of Business related subjects, some IT, and the Arts. It hasn’t really changed for decades. Now imagine throwing in logical fallacies, some ontology, chess endgame studies, and some basic neuroscience.

Yes, I know some schools teach some of these things to some of their students. What I am saying is that I think these and a few other things need to be explicitly and comprehensively taught to all students.

10 Things All Kids Should Be Taught in School

1. The Scientific Method

The scientific method is not just for ‘doing’ science, it’s a template for understanding the world and for thinking more clearly. It is a rich methodology which, I think, needs to be explored in much greater depth at schools, and it must form part of every research project in every subject. In fact, I think it should form the backbone of how we teach almost every lesson.

Image credit: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:ArchonMagnus

Some questions to enhance the teaching of the scientific method:

  1. How can we observe better?
  2. How can I conduct better background research?
  3. How can we increase our curiosity and creativity so that we can think of interesting questions?
  4. What are the best ways of formulating hypotheses and are there different kinds?
  5. How do I design an effective experiment?
  6. How do I analyze the results of my experiment?
  7. How do I find trends in my data?
  8. How do I prove causality?
  9. How do I eliminate bias in my research?
  10. How do I form the most elegant conclusion?
  11. How can I use my results to spur further investigation?
  12. How can I use the scientific method in my other subjects and in daily life?
  13. How do I trust the results and conclusions of other people?

2. Chess

I have coached chess for over a decade now. I am still not very good myself, but I have seen it have remarkable effects on my students. Chess is now an embedded part of the curriculum in about 30 countries, including Spain, Canada, Russia, and shortly, I expect, in Australia and the U.K.

I have written before about how chess helps to make kids smarter, and I will not rehash my points here. Suffice it to say that the game of kings has remarkable effects on creativity, concentration, reasoning, and confidence.

Some links to the power of chess for young minds:

The Benefits of Chess

16 Ways Chess Makes Kids Smart

The Benefits of Chess in Education (A Short Reading List)

Not Just a Game: Kids on The Value of Chess in Education

3. Coding

There has been a big push of late to get every child involved in coding. This isn’t really because the world needs more coders (even though we really do). It’s because learning to code a program teaches kids much about how to think logically, how to generate creative solutions, how to persevere through setbacks and how to learn independently. Here’s more:

Computational Thinking Problem-Solving Apparatus

Computational Thinking Activity: Choose Your Own Adventure Stories With Google Forms

4. Philosophy

Kids of all ages are keen philosophers. Their favorite questions are most often the very same ones that the great minds of philosophy are still grappling with. Questions like:

  • Why am I here? / What is my purpose?
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Does God exist?
  • What is right and wrong?
  • What is reality?
  • What happens after you die?

Unfortunately, kids tend to be educated out of this natural curiosity, instead of having it stimulated and channeled. Encouraging youngsters to ponder these issues gives them access to some of the great avenues of thinking in philosophy, namely: ontology, epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, ethics, and logic. And, of course, it emboldens them to ask more questions, to investigate, and to deliberate more thoroughly. But most importantly, studying philosophy teaches kids how to think deeply about issues and to construct valid and convincing arguments.

As their prefrontal cortices grow, kids love asking philosophical questions and arguing philosophically. We should let them do it more.

Again, as with every item on this list, teaching kids philosophy provides them with skills that are transferable into every other discipline.

Please see the Wikipedia page on Philosophy for Children for more background and ideas on the value of teaching kids philosophy.

5. Debating

Debating is the art of arguing intelligently and respectfully. It is closely tied to philosophy in that it is a sort of ‘live’ philosophical match-up. Philosophy in action, if you will. I would also love you to visit this post where I discuss debating and how I think it makes kids smart.

In the video below, you will see the kind of engaged, confident, principled and intelligent young people debating can help produce. (The video features the 2014 silver medal-winning South African school debating team who decided to wear keffiyehs and Palestinian flag pins to highlight the human rights abuses taking place in Gaza. These young people had to face a great deal of ugliness upon their return to South Africa – and even received death threats – not something they would have had to deal with if their opponents had a background in dialectic exchange.)

More on this story here: http://groundup.org.za/article/gaza-israel-and-sa-edge-reason_2171


6. Dramatic Arts

We all know and love Sir Ken Robinson for his thoughts on stimulating creativity in the classroom. But did you know that much of what he has to say is rooted in his interests in the dramatic arts? One of the great thinkers on the future of education, Sir Ken says this:

Public schools were not only created in the interests of industrialism—they were created in the image of industrialism. In many ways, they reflect the factory culture they were designed to support. This is especially true in high schools, where school systems base education on the principles of the assembly line and the efficient division of labor. Schools divide the curriculum into specialist segments: some teachers install math in the students, and others install history. They arrange the day into standard units of time, marked out by the ringing of bells, much like a factory announcing the beginning of the workday and the end of breaks. Students are educated in batches, according to age, as if the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture. They are given standardized tests at set points and compared with each other before being sent out onto the market.”

Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

Ken Robinson believes, as do I and many others, that the Arts in general, and the performing arts in particular, need to stand on the same place on the stage as the Languages, Sciences and Mathematics, as they help young people to discover their own personal passions. Also, these avenues of learning help to develop confidence, creativity, and may well provide the impetus to revolutionize the old industrial model of education into a more personalized, child-centered one.

Image: http://independentschoolparent.com/academic/the-importance-of-drama-and-performing-arts

Here are two excellent articles which detail the benefits of the dramatic arts in education:

ShoutOut UK

79 Reasons Why Kids Need to Study Drama at High School

And if by some chance you have no idea who Sir Ken Robinson is, stop reading this, brew a cup of tea and watch his amazing TED talk: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

7. Contemporary Issues

Quite a bit is done in many schools to get kids to consider global issues that transcend their immediate communities. I would still like to see contemporary issues being integrated more authentically into every subject more often, rather than being something that happens once or twice a week. Moreover, contemporary issues discussions should never be just about ‘What’s happening in the world’, they should be about the underlying philosophical debates.

An idea I love is to use the online game NationStates as a jumping-off point to discuss the political, sociological and ethical issues of our age. That way, you don’t have to circle around like CNN waiting for something newsworthy to fall. And the issues on NationStates often closely parallel real global, national and local issues – but because they are thinly ‘fictionalized’, they are slightly easier to talk about.

Here is just one example of the sorts of issues players of NationStates have to ponder on a daily basis:

Of course, these are not the only options. Nor are any of the ‘positions’ clear-cut ‘right answers’. And some positions are rather tongue-in-cheek, while others are deeply important and even emotional. The point is, these sorts of issues are sure to spark some lively debates at worst, and perhaps even the acquisition of more mature viewpoints at best.

8. Empathy

Said Atticus Finch:

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

And if Atticus said it, it must be true.

But seriously: Empathy, tolerance and understanding difference is sorely lacking in the world. I will not rant too long, but I will say this: we cannot call ourselves civilized, and we cannot consider ourselves moral beings so long as we are in any way racist, homophobic and tolerant of the suffering of others.

And we cannot call what we do in classrooms ‘education’ unless we are prepared to chip away at the bigoted, self-centered and small-minded notions many of our students have had embedded into their young minds.

But how to teach empathy?

What if I told you that the answer to this question touches on the very foundations of our education systems? And to better teach it, we need to reimagine schools?

Here’s why:

For young people to best learn and understand empathy, they need to see it modeled in their teachers and parents. At schools, this means that educators need to be empathetic towards their students. Now take this a step further and you realize that empathy is not just saying “there there” when something bad happens to one of them, it is a heartfelt concern for the wellbeing of our students. And if this is a genuine concern, schools need to begin changing how they function in order to do away with hurtful practices like arbitrary, non-negotiable deadlines, standardized tests, pointless homework, and syllabus-centered education.

In short: The best way to teach empathy by considering things from our students’ point of view. And if we do this, we must be prepared to make significant changes to the way we do things.

9. Designing and Making

Remember when you were a kid and you made your own kites and carts and slingshots and toys? Well, that doesn’t really happen so much anymore. The Maker Movement in schools aims to get kids learning by tinkering, experimenting, and making. But, of course, since this is a school thing, we build in some real learning too.

Here’s a great infographic by Jackie Gerstein on the underlying principles behind ‘making’:

Image source: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2227689-maker-education-as-experiential-#

Combine this with some sound design thinking, and you have a truly rewarding educational experience.

10: The Brain

Education is about brains. Yet we spend precious little time teaching kids about how their own brains work. Understanding how the most amazing thing in the universe works helps kids to use their own brains better. And correcting the myths about our brains is a more important task still. (Besides, they are instantly fascinated by the brain the moment you start discussing it.)

As part of this, let’s teach them some things about neural pathways and about how to learn more effectively. And why not a bit about metacognition?

(And One more…) Digital Citizenship

It isn’t enough to simply issue a code of conduct or to hope for the best. Kids need to be taught how to manage their online presence and how to regulate their conduct online. They also need to know how to use technology effectively and how to adjust their tone and register for particular audiences. It’s more than trying to protect them from the evils of the Internet and bullying, it’s also about their future employability.

One comment

  1. Hi Sean,

    I’m enjoying your writing. You and I seem to think alike. We see the same problems, which you articulate so well.

    One of the problems, that I am working on, stems from the dominent structure (classrooms) and the infrastructure of the current (industrial) educational system.

    Pre – industrial educational systems relied on apprenticeships with masters. These best features of the ancient systems of education were interest, talent-based and highly relevant to obtaining employable skills.

    The contrast between these ancient systems and the modern industrial system reveals that assessment ( real-world vs. standardized testing) is an artifact of the structure of education. Apprenticeships lead to real – world authentic assessment of skill in the workplace. Whereas the structure of the classroom requires one-size-fits-all assessments.

    With the advent of the Internet, and the possibility of online delivery of individualized learning, one master teacher may reach apprentices around the world who are willing to pay to obtain employable skills, that go beyond standardized tests.

    I am build my own Science Research coaching business around that notion.


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