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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Don't prepare students for jobs in an Agathie Christie novel

Schools seem intent on enabling all children to uncover their potential in professions that are: staggeringly unlikely, low paying, and about one hundred years past their peak. These include:

  • A musician, thus everyone is made to play an instrument.
  • A naturalist, thus everyone takes biology and chemistry.
  • An artist, thus everyone takes numerous art classes.
  • A novelist, thus everyone studies great literature.
  • A professional mathematician, thus everyone is pushed into a calculus track.

Of course, diverse exposure is part of a rich life. Walk the streets of great cities. And great forests. Talk. Listen. Where children are passionate, support them and get out of their way

But in terms of forcing (or otherwise putting heightened virtue on) archaic areas of study to prepare them for life in a Jane Austin or Agatha Christie novel, don't worry about it.


  1. Hmm...not sure about this one. It may even be debatable whether schools are supposed to be preparing students for specific jobs. But I don't think that's why the arts are still lingering (despite regular attacks) in most curricula. Music, art and literature are studied in schools because they matter in life, contributing beauty and understanding in important ways. Many kids wouldn't otherwise have a chance to experience these things, and more kids (but probably not all of them) should be able to spend *more* time on them if they want to, regardless of their career goals.

    That said, Richard Florida's research on the creative class indicates that creative people are doing pretty well out in the workforce these days. Not stereotypically writing great American novels, painting famous pictures or becoming pop stars -- they're reasonably well paid as designers, architects, arts administrators, editors, publishers, art teachers, etc.

    I think I get your main point, which is probably that the math geeks shouldn't be forced to study great literature for years when they'd rather go deeper on math...and that the lit geeks shouldn't have to take calculus in Grade 12. Fair enough. But isn't it safe to say that for creative kids interested in the arts, immersing themselves in these subjects will be good for their lives, and perhaps their careers too?

  2. Jeremy, I think we agree. People should pursue content that they need (reading, writing, math) or love (literature, advanced science). A good instructor should start off exposing a student to all of the above. But ultimately, if the "need to know" content isn't sticking, a good instructor may need to put increasingly more pressure. My problem is that a) instructors start off with the pressure approach across the board which often repels people to a subject anyway, and b) when a generation loves certain content, they almost inevitably decides the next generation needs it. By changing the context, they defeat their goal and oversell it as well.

  3. Yes, well said. This contrast (tension, even) between subjects/skills we need vs the ones we love to pursue is the heart of our family's discussion of learning right now. We're homeschooling two daughters in a public school district program that follows the provincial (British Columbia, Canada) curriculum. Covering the required curriculum elements doesn't take much time, so I guess the rest of the time, we're more in the unschooling camp. Just letting a six- and eight-year-old do whatever they want (imaginative play, reading, art, drawing, music, etc) is great, but we're starting to talk about how to more meaningfully spend our days, figuring out what we really care about to study more in depth...both because we need it and love it, ideally. Some of this happens naturally through things we're doing anyway, like gardening and cooking.

    By the way, I should have also included a note about how much I've enjoyed picking my way through these pages over the last couple of days. If I would have left "yes, I agree comments", they would outnumbered the questioning ones by about 30-1. Well done!

  4. Nice! That's liberal arts. I was in school during the heyday of American schools--late 50's and the 1960's. We were being trained for jobs in the 1940's. That was progress, I guess.

  5. My hope is that "big" skills such as leadership and stewardship can capture the broadening that liberal arts was designed to accomplish with the focus and usefulness that more focused skills can bring.