Teaching: What You Should Be Teaching Your Kids

What You Should Be Teaching Your Kids

What’s wrong with our schools?

Well, if you ask me, they’re not designed for the modern world.

They are no longer up to par.

Note: If you ask me = this is an opinion = I don’t claim to be an expert in this matter but instead would like to share my opinion with you (and get yours too).

Comments are OPEN on this article and I’d love to get yours. More on that later.

First of all, I have some explaining to do.

What? No Google?

So I’m walking on the beach with my son and somehow we get to talking about his history homework.

This particular piece of homework reminded me very much of a very similar piece of homework I had when I was the same age (as my son). It was about the Romans.

I told my son that to do the same piece of homework, I had to go to the local library. I remember it quite vividly because I had gotten myself into quite a state at the time – I wasn’t particularly studious, but for some reason I had gotten pretty stressed about this particular piece of homework.

I explained to my son that we had these books in the library called “Encyclopedias” – the Encyclopedia Britannia – huge volumes that were expensive and that you weren’t permitted to take out of the library like the other books. So to do my homework I had to spend time in the library opening up these huge volumes one by one on the library table, cross-referencing them (anyone remember that?) and copying out – by hand – all of the relevant pieces of information for my homework.

I explained this is because in those days we didn’t have Google.

“What do you mean, ‘you didn’t have Google’?” … my son wanted clarification of this point.

“Not even the internet”, I explained, therefore ruling out help from any other search engine too.

Things got worse in my example because after I got home I realized that I’d misunderstood the homework and that I’d missed an important part. The library was now closed and I was starting to panic. I did have one way out – one of our neighbors was a school teacher and my parents suggested I try calling for help. Despite this being a really frightening idea for a 12 year-old child, I did so and remember spending time in my neighbors house. He was more elderly than my parents and quite a strict man, but on his bookshelves, he had an extensive series of history books and more encyclopedias which he pointed me to and left me to study whilst he and his family continued watching TV in the next room.

A few hours later I completed my history homework. Needless to say, with all the various sources I had used, it had become quite a complex task to complete. In total that homework had probably taken me about 6-8 hours (it was some time ago so I’m afraid I can’t be any more accurate than that).

To do the same homework and get much better results took my son minutes rather than hours and involved a couple of google searches from the comfort of his own – well, anywhere.

Difficult to explain how much different the world was before the internet – my son couldn’t imagine such a world existing.

The Problem With Schools

My son goes to a great school. The things I like about it are that they are fairly practical and the subjects are increasingly applied rather than just being theory – and I hope things continue to develop this way.

We had two schools to choose from in our local area. Unlike the other school which is also regarded as an excellent school, my sons school treats the children more like adults – discussing with them what they are learning rather than telling them and instructing them to listen. This is the aspect that I like the most.

The problem with schools in my view is that even those that are evolving still have a large part of their curriculum based on learning by rote and memorizing stuff.

What is the point in that?

More traditional schools do more of this. More stuff to memorize and regurgitate at exam time.

This used to be important when we needed to keep this information in our heads, but this in my view is a waste of time in todays world. Time that could be spent more constructively challenging the children and interacting with them.

Really, what is the point in filling our children’s heads with information they can get in a 2 second search from Google (or any other search engine for that matter)?

What Should We Be Teaching Our Children

The world has changed significantly.

We now live in a world where information is as free as water (more so in some countries) – it’s nothing special and it’s not enough to succeed. We all have this at our fingertips.

We also have other possibilities like never before – what we should be teaching our children is how to take advantage of these possibilities.

I’ve already told you how anyone can create a website in under 3 minutes. It’s so simple that my 84 year old aunty who never even owned a computer could do it – but that’s just the start. You can also buy a house, sell a house, learn a craft, publish a book, state an opinion, create a movement, network, start a pop career… we no longer need the middleman to do these things.

The kid in class who daydreams, questions the status quo and wants to make their own stuff is often seen as the most difficult – the disruptive one – but this is exactly what I think schools, and parents, now need to embrace.

So I think, unfortunately, a lot of our schools are out of step with the modern world.

Memorizing stuff just isn’t enough.

Not even close.

We should be teaching our children to create, to question, to engage, to interact and to explore. To dabble, to experiment, to fail, to learn and to adapt.

We should be teaching our children to create, to question, to engage, to interact and to explore.

Some schools have started moving in this direction but in my view still have a long way to go. So if the school’s not teaching your children these things (or at least encouraging them as a lot of this stuff will come naturally anyway) – then you should be.

Final Thought

This is a subject I find fascinating – because it’s on the boundaries of education, social behavior, psychology and also business. The world is changing fast and schools are not the only example of institutions that are in danger of getting left behind.

I see examples every day when interacting with my children and am often fascinated and trying to keep up myself – for the moment I feel up to date but it won’t be long until I’m hanging on by my fingernails.

This is just my opinion and I’d welcome some discussion on the subject – so how about sharing yours by adding a brief comment below?


Teaching: What You Should Be Teaching Your Kids — 14 Comments

  1. Such a fantastic topic of discussion with so many wonderful comments. I am not terribly familiar with home schooling, but Yvonne’s comments made for some really interesting further research. I am interested to know how home schooling is recognised when one enters the work force?

    Our son will be starting school next year and is currently attending the “connected” pre-school.
    They apply the Reggio Amelia Emilia approach to learning and really engage the children in initiating their own learning, by following their interests, they listen and engage them in problem solving and coming up with their own ideas.
    The system is private and the adjoining school and high school are very much parent involved, (ie the parents have the power to keep numbers in the school low).
    I am hoping we have made the right choice as I believe as you mentioned Alan that schools should encourage children to “create, engage, interact and explore”
    This I believe also starts in the home environment and can be encouraged at home whilst incorporating the learning that our children receive at school.

    • Hi Raquel,

      thanks for the comment – I do think this is an interesting topic of discussion. The world is such a dynamic place these days and we have education all around us (by which I mean opportunities to educate ourselves) like never before.

      I hope schools are getting it too how much the world is changing and what that means for education and what skills are needed – I think they are starting to but some of these institutions find change hard, particularly traditional and well-established ones. It sounds though like you’ve chosen your kids school well (and in any case you can always supplement this at home anyway with pretty much anything you want your kids to learn via the internet ;-)).

  2. I just hope that you continue posting more on this topic. I love all you write about, but education is a big one for me. With my 8 year old in 3rd grade, my newborn just starting to experience life and me being a Lab Instructor at an Arts University in the city I live in, I hope to one day take my love of Art, Youth and Education to Latin America to give the less fortunate a chance at exceptional and fun learning.

  3. Awesome Yvonne!

    Yes, I think I do understand 🙂

    My son is only 12 and already he can do some pretty impressive things with a computer. It won’t be long before I’m struggling to keep up with him (even though I’m a total geek).

    I reckon we can always learn stuff from our kids – well, from anyone for that matter (but it’s awesome learning stuff from your kids as you watch them grow into young adults you can be really proud of).

    Sounds like you certainly got your priorities right!

  4. Because we’re still so involved in the home schooling community we hear many success stories. Ivy league colleges seeking out home schooled students is just one of many examples I could cite.

    Yes, you did get the meaning of the term “short bus.”

    A couple of years after our daughter had moved out of our home she came to me and said she wanted to thank me for all the years of sacrifice I had made in order to teach her at home. At first I didn’t understand what she was talking about.

    Then I realized she understood that I had quit my job in order to be home with her. We moved to a smaller house. We sold the Mercedes which was becoming more and more expensive in regards to upkeep. We began having more home cooked meals. We found more and more ways to entertain ourselves at home rather than attending theatrical performances or going to concerts or even to the movies.
    We made many gifts rather than finding them at the altar of “the mall.”

    Ah, but Alan, you understand, don’t you? None of those things were “sacrifices.” Yes, they were lifestyle changes. And yes, there were times when I was unsure of my choices. But, in truth no sacrifice was made.

    As a matter of fact, when our daughter thanked me I answered that no sacrifice had been made. Then I told her about the excitement I felt each time I saw her learn a new concept, overcome a perplexing hurdle or prove her character through her own personal sacrifice.

    I was there for her first baby steps, her first spoken words, her first light bulb moment in math class, her look of amazement during her first science experiment, her catapulting joy at being able to look at a jumble of letters and make sense of the whole mess, her squeals of laughter when she was able to amaze her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins by proving that “by golly” she was learning some pretty interesting stuff and it was her Mommy and Daddy who were guiding her to learn it.

    I also reminded her that she has been auto-didactic for most (if not all) of her life. I just happened to be the one who had the amazing experience of being able to watch her as she grew and learned and became the fantastic woman she is today.

    And it worked out pretty darn well too — because she is the one who teaches me now. Like, uh honey, how do I turn this computer on again? I forgot.

  5. Hot Button!

    Oh no. I should be working. I have a ton of things to accomplish today before I dash off to witness the vow renewal of our friends. Yet here I am, chomping at the bit to add my opinion to this discussion.

    The call has gone on much too long concerning “fixing” government controlled schools. And the fact is many private schools follow the government model and fall into much the same traps. I have some guesses concerning why they do this copying act but that is for another discussion.

    From schools which are run only 9 months out of the year (get the picture people — we are no longer an agriculturally based society) to schools which require rote memorization of “facts” which honestly can change overnight, to testing which is not based on proving what students have learned but rather the “ability” of teachers to “teach to the test” and more such nonsense schools are not functioning as places of learning. Period.

    Learning is fun. School is boring. Learning is on-going. School is crumbling. Learning is a component of our very being. School does its best to convince us that learning is only done in the confines of a certain building and within a certain time frame — that is, unless they want to dump some of the chores off on the parents and call it “homework” even for children in Kindergarten.

    Because I’m a member of a family which has for a number of generations had quite a few of its members become school teachers I was on the edge of black-sheepdom when about 25 years ago I raised my hands in dismay and shouted, “NO!”

    No. My daughter will not attend a school where one of the teachers is allowed to make sexual overtones to his students because he has reached that pinnacle of “teacherness” –tenure. (We learned about this mess a couple of years before our daughter was “eligible” to begin attending school.)

    No. My child will not attend the school where one of the teachers was arrested for sexually molesting her mentally handicapped students — and many of the teachers knew something was amiss but didn’t want to upset the apple cart. (We learned about this from one of the teachers who also taught at that school and was a family friend.)

    No. My child will not attend the “private” school where she is taught I’m on my way to hell because I wear slacks and want her to do the same. (In order to avoid public school we tried this one for a couple of months.)

    No. My child will not attend school where she is taught it is the government’s duty to feed children whose parents would rather purchase cigarettes and beer than pay for the (I must admit — atrocious) lunch at the school. (We learned about this from listening to neighbors who bragged about fooling the school into providing free meals for their children.)

    No. My daughter will not attend school where the teachers, in the confines of the teachers lounge don’t mind making jokes about the “short bus.” (I told you I have teachers in my family — figure out how I learned about this.)

    No. My child will not attend school where many of the teachers assert the best perks of their jobs are June, July and August. (And, they’re not joking when they say it.)

    No. My child will not attend school where parents are told on the one hand that they don’t know enough about education and should “leave the teaching to us,” and on the other hand the reason their children are doing so poorly is they (the parents) are not involved enough.

    No. My daughter will not attend school. She will live school in the greatness of whatever ventures and adventures are a part of our lives at any given moment.

    Now all these years later she still loves learning. She unschools her children and her husband who was passed through the system unable to read is for the first time in his life reading and now understands what it means to read for pleasure. He is helping his children discover that learning happens during all waking hours and it is fabulously fun.

    Oops, got carried away — again. But you asked.

    • Wow Yvonne,

      I was hoping we’d get some discussion going on this topic so thanks for sharing so much. I actually have a friend too who was told his son was ‘probably’ dyslexic because he wasn’t achieving the high standards of a certain school – it seems very much like that school kicks out kids who don’t cut it or make excuses so they can term them special needs and exclude them from certain stats – all to maintain a strong position in the local ‘league tables’.

      Of course not all schools are like that but you do hear plenty of stories which raise serious concerns that the emphasis is all screwed up.

      My friend also decided to home-school his son and without too much effort his son is way ahead of the curriculum, doing really well and enjoying it.

      Home-schooling is something I find fascinating too and I’m guessing that more and more people will move that way as we hear more and more success stories of people who’ve tried it and if the regular school institution/system doesn’t get it’s act together – another example of where people are concluding that they can do a better job themselves.

      I just googled “short bus” and I think I know what you mean (you mean the teachers were making fun of students with physical or mental handicaps, right?) but I’m not sure we use the expression “short bus” here in the UK, at least I’ve never heard of it…

      Interesting point about private schools (though having the flexibility to do something different) copying the government led schools – I can well believe that’s true.

    • That’s an interesting article, though the author goes a bit further by proposing alternatives to schools – I’m just saying that schools need to up their game – traditional teaching is outdated. Nothing as extreme as replacing schools entirely – that would probably be too radical a change with unexpected repercussions even if it seems like research says it’s a good idea or it’s a good idea in concept (i.e. even if B is proven to be better than A, in a complex world, the change to get from A to B has consequences in itself).

      I love this expression from the article: “Children come into the world beautifully designed to direct their own education.”

      It’s like when people say they can’t network – we are born social animals, so we just have to get back to our natural abilities in both of these cases (that was almost a perfect segway to promote my new book 😉

  6. Parents are to blame also, especially Nikki!
    She loves it when children memorise times tables, rather than see the patterns in numbers.
    It is harder test for understanding, easier to check for straight forward remembered facts.

    • Perhaps because we’ve all been encouraged to follow a structured set of results which give us enough reassurance that our kids are ‘doing well’ – all we want to see is that they are doing as well or better than they should be and we’re happy.

      Personally I’m not massively concerned because we can definitely fill in the gaps but I do think there has been a seismic shift which has happened right before our eyes (in the way the world works, the opportunities we have etc etc) – and it would be nice if schools caught up a little more…

  7. I agree, Alan.

    Traditional school systems need to change. They need to keep up with time. Like you mentioned, memorization isn’t enough. These days we can get any information we want in our finger tips. But that doesn’t mean schools shouldn’t teach.

    As you mentioned, schools should teach kids to question, to ponder, to innovate (something our world dearly needs). We humans are not living upto our potential; only a few among us are able to overcome all pressures of life and use their full potential (like Einstein).

    Another thing I would like to mention is the obsession with numbers/grades students receive in each test or quiz.

    Schools tend to put too much emphasis on that, and too little emphasis on real learning (which means, asking questions based on what we have learned, not memorization).

    I also hate it when schools recognize students for pure memorization (sure, that’s a skill, but that’s just wrong; it sends a wrong message to others).

    I hope that school systems improve in the future. Some schools are changing, but not fast enough. We need people to intervene and redefine education.

    • Exactly Jeevan,

      ‘that doesn’t mean schools shouldn’t teach’

      – it’s what they teach that I think they need to be careful about (as times have changed).

      • Oh, okay 😉

        I hope schools do change for good. I sincerely hope they don’t rely too much on technology (technology is great, but it can also act as great distractions, if not applied properly).

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