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What are we teaching our Sons in School?

For the longest time, school has been organized around subjects. Fifth graders go to math class and then English class and then geography.

(Article acknowledgment: Seth Godin)

Mostly, those classes don’t teach what they say they teach. Sure, there are some facts, but mostly it’s the methods of instruction that are on offer. School usually has a different flavor than learning.

It turns out, the skills we need to use in life (and in school) aren’t subject specific. But we use those subjects to teach the skills we actually end up using. Everyone knows that the typical person doesn’t need binomials, but the argument is that problem-solving, etc, are totally worth learning and so we pretend to teach the subject when apparently, we’re teaching the skill.

Perhaps, instead of organizing school around data acquisition and regurgitation, we could identify what the skills are and separate them out, teaching domain knowledge in conjunction with the skill, not the other way around.

It turns out that the typical school spends most of its time on just one of those skills (obedience through comportment and regurgitation).

What would happen if we taught each skill separately?

Obedience Management Leadership/cooperation Problem-solving Mindfulness Creativity Analysis

Louis Vuitton campaign, of 2019 Men's created by Virgil Abloh

Louis Vuitton campaign, of 2019 Men’s created by Virgil Abloh

Indeed, you are required to do all seven of these things in math class, but in what proportion? Is a kid who has trouble with obedience “bad at math” or is it that the obedience part of class got in the way of the analysis or problem-solving part of class instead?

It’s entirely possible for a kid to make it through 16 years of organized schooling with a solid B average and never do much more than do well on just one thing–remembering what’s on the test. We’ve failed when we’ve turned out someone with just one of the 7 skills.

What happens if we are clear what we’re doing and why? Because obedience isn’t the point of math or science, but sometimes it’s taught that way.

And then, when obedience session is over, we can find other ways to approach the work at hand, developing the other essential skills. A 45 minute Creativity class that uses algebra is going to feel very different from a Leadership class covering the same material.

Some kids spend a decade in the school sports system and learn leadership and management and creativity and analysis. And some learn nothing but how to follow the coach’s instructions and sit on the bench. This has nothing to do with sports (or geography or biology) and everything to do with what we decide we’re teaching in any given moment.

Is there a cognitive difference between solving a chemistry problem and solving a crossword puzzle? Not really. Getting good at solving–putting on your solving hat and finding the guts to use it–is a skill that gets buried under the avalanche that we call obedience.

“How’d you do in Creativity today, son?” or perhaps, “Wow, you got an A in Analysis–that’s going to open a lot of doors for you…”

Louis Vuitton campaign, of 2019 Men's created by Virgil Abloh

Louis Vuitton campaign, of 2019 Men’s created by Virgil Abloh

Bureaucracies over-index for obedience. They do that out of self-preservation, and because it’s the easiest thing to sell to clients, funders and parents (and to measure). But since we’re currently overdoing that one (they do it far more in other countries, though), we end up getting confused about what it means to learn a subject area in a useful way and we definitely under-develop people on the other six skills.

My guess is that most parents and educators are afraid to even discuss the topic.

Thanks to Seth Godin for this piece of intellect.


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