What is school for?

Your school years are meant to be the apprenticeship stage of your life – you are supposed to spend thirteen or so years at school, and emerge at the end of it prepared for whatever adult life throws at you.

If that’s what school is for, then why do we as a culture insist on teaching young people almost nothing that will be of any use to them once they’ve left school?

Shall we just leave that one to chance?

The funny thing is we recognise that certain things can’t be left to chance. We’ve made it the law that kids must go to school. We produce entire curricula, and then test kids rigorously on them, making sure that no apparently vital bit of information goes untaught.

We’ve just decided that instead of teaching young people anything of actual benefit to their adult lives, we’ll impress upon them the importance of arbitrary trivia.

Some examples

Photosynthesis? We can’t have kids not knowing about that. Don’t be ridiculous!

Knowing how to manage your personal finances? Probably not that significant to their futures. Leave it to chance.

Pythagoras? God, can you imagine a world where that name wasn’t on the tip of every tongue? Makes you shudder, doesn’t it?

How to raise healthy, happy children? I dunno. Let’s just let them figure it out by themselves. What’s the worst that could happen?

Henry VIII and the fate of his six wives? I can’t think of anything more crucial for our youngsters to get to grips with.

Understanding human nature, and how to deal with the people around you? You can’t teach social intelligence, mate – you’ve either got it or you haven’t. And if even you could teach it, shall we… yeah, we’ll leave that to chance. Best not to get involved.

I could go on all day. But I won’t.

School is too important to waste on trivia

It’s not that the stuff we learn at school is irrelevant. It’s just that, compared to a whole host of things that would actually help you navigate the world as an adult, the stuff we learn is way down the list.

Why not reverse it? Learn the important stuff first. Why not teach actual life skills, why not teach kids how to teach themselves, and why not teach them how to be healthy, happy humans? Then if there’s any time left, study the feminist subtext in Jane Eyre.

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