You propose in one of your blog posts that one of the best ways to reform education would be to get away for the old idea of standardized curricula and move towards more specialized, individual education— i.e. if you have a kid with no talent for math, you shouldn’t put him through calculus.

But is this really wise? C. S. Lewis makes the argument in The Abolition of Man that one of the primary roles of a good education is to preserve democracy (and goes on to note that the sort of education that will preserve a democracy is not necessarily one that democrats will like).

Don’t we have an obligation to students’ countrymen, and not just their employers, to make sure that they not only have the skills required to do their job, but also have a firm grounding in (at the very least) scientific thinking, Western history, mathematics, and (going further) a foreign language, the classics, philosophy and logic?


The main thrust of my proposal wasn’t to do less education, but more!  The point is that most kids learn very little in school.  I think the twin ideas of learning by doing, and studying what interests them, will make them learn far more.

The insufficiently examined assumption in your question— and in most discussions of education— is that kids learning, which is hard to make happen and hard to measure, is replaced with adults lecturing, which we know how to do.  (Standardized tests pretend to measure progress, but every schoolchild knows that what you know on the day of the test has very little to do with what you know a week later, to say nothing of ten or twenty years!)

To take one of the items on your list— sure, I think it’s great for kids to learn mathematics. But it’s  complete illusion that forcing kids to sit through a math class makes them learn mathematics!  It works for a fraction of kids, but even they would probably learn better another way.

Now, why do we learn mathematics?  Because it’s useful in all sorts of fields.  That means it’ll come up naturally if you let kids pursue those subjects.  For some, they’ll have to learn it if they want to write a 3-D graphics program, or plot a spaceship’s trajectory, or calculate whether a roof will cave in  Others might run into it while trying to run a business, or argue a political point, or figure out sports statistics, or understand the way musical scales work.

Now, it does seem true that what adults should really know, kids may be regrettably uninterested in.  E.g. surely we’d like voters to have a basic understanding of government.  But again, the question is how to produce this knowledge?  The required constitution class I mentioned just doesn’t do it.  I think kids of the same age would learn a lot more if, say, they spent a year creating their own government, with multiple branches, elections, and a measure of real power over the school.