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James Kirschberg

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What topics/subjects/concepts do you think should be taught in primary public schools that are not being taught today?

It seems that most public schools are narrowing their curricula rather than expanding upon them. The impetus is towards standardized testing based upon standardized teaching rather than individualized learning and focused communication. As woeful as this approach is, there are still opportunities to work within that framework and present really useful information to Earth's most important individuals: Our Next Generation.

The classic subjects of Language, Math, Science, History, and Art/Music should be sacrosanct, but what of Collaboration, Empathy, Ethics, Responsibility and Self-Awareness? Maybe we should be teaching really useful things such as Project Management, Personal Finance, and perhaps even (gasp) Independent Thinking? Should these concepts be taught in public school? Can they be taught in public school? If not, why not? If so, how do we proceed?

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    Mar 15 2012: Human interaction.

    Behaviour and its likely consequences on self and others, taught as demonstrations, practical examples and video presentations at primary level.

    This might then lead to the teaching of social/cognitive psychology in secondary education upwards.

    The teaching of psychology is, in my opinion, so hugely important in the transition from these dysfunctional times to something more functional, on a sustainable and human scale. The next generation will be the ones who will have to handle that transition successfully.
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      Mar 15 2012: I think you're on to something here.... Inter-personal cause and effect, correct? Do you have any examples of those demonstrations/presentations etc? Are there any right here on TED that I have overlooked?
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        Mar 15 2012: Hi James,

        Yes, correct. I think everything we do has an effect on someone or something down the line. It is possible that this basis of empathic reasoning has been filtered out or corrupted by the persuance of selfish aims within an extremely damaging form of so-called 'normality' we are experiencing right now.

        I think it is high time to educate children in terms of sustainability and empathy, rather than selfishness and exploitation.

        Unfortunately I don't have any examples of such demonstrations/presentations. It is just an idea that has been bumping around in my head for some time.

        Any of Sir Ken Robinson's talks are appropriate and illustrate where education should be going. I would also like to point you in the direction of an illustrated talk given by Iain McGilchrist here on TED:


        His theory is that the making of the Western World has a correlation with left brain hemisphere dominance (left/logical as opposed to right/intuitive). I mention this in the context of your question because standard curricula in schools follow a predominantly left-brain agenda, which would only serve to reinforce 'business as usual', rather than a curriculum that might be cogniscent of the need to change things - very urgently, and within the next generation!

        Hope this helps.

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    Mar 15 2012: Hi James,

    "Empathy, Ethics, Responsibility and Self-Awareness" are all topics covered in philosophy, as is "Independent Thinking." So, to answer one of your questions, I think philosophy should *at least* be offered as an elective at the high school level. Students are learning a great many facts and, what is happening is, since they seldom use them (like facts about chemistry, for instance), they forget much of what they have learned. Philosophy is an excellent study that teaches students how to think well and consider alternatives. One study found that teaching students logic improved their critical thinking skills—http://jite.org/documents/Vol8/JITEv8IIP001-016Bouhnik681.pdf—which should not be a surprise. So philosophy ought to be taught because it teaches students how to think *well*.

    Second, an excellent education does not exclude an ethical education. "How should we live?" is, after all, one of the most important questions (if not *the* most important, as some philosophers have argued) that we can grapple with. By teaching students about ethics, we can teach them how to live better lives through ethical reasoning. I think philosophy satisfies a number of the qualities you bring up in your question regarding what a sound education ought to provide. What do you think?

    Lastly, I agree that public schools ought to teach courses that are more practical and prepare students for the "real world"—personal finance is a great example of this.
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      Mar 15 2012: Thank you Paul for your reply. To your point, perhaps some of the applied aspects of Philosophy (i.e. Critical Thinking, Ethics, etc) would be beneficial in a high-school setting. A protracted and in-depth study of the many branches of philosophical nuance would however be, to my thinking, more appropriate within a college-level framework.

      Can you think of any ways in which your local high schools could introduce new studies? Does it need to be mandated by the state?
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        Mar 15 2012: You're welcome, and thank you for a great topic. We're in agreement that an "in-depth study of the many branches of philosophical nuance would however be (. . .) more appropriate within a college-level framework. I don't think high school students need to spend an entire year studying metaphysics, for instance. What I propose is that three philosophy courses be offered: logic/critical thinking, ethics, and an introductory course (that covers epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and aesthetics). This way they learn a little bit about philosophy and "right thinking," like what is and isn't permissible in argument, how to calculate the implications of any given belief, and how to relate this thinking to other areas of study. Philosophers are having to seek scientific understanding now more than ever—it is wise for metaphysicians to study quantum mechanics; ethicists to be well-read in psychology/sociology; philosophers of mind to be acquainted with neuroscience. Since science has many philosophical underpinnings, I think students should be familiar with philosophy because it will also sharpen their understanding of science. As for your questions, I'm not sure how it is done. I know of two professors at my school who are pushing to get philosophy into high schools (in North Carolina), but they're not really making any progress.
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        Mar 15 2012: Allan Bloom has some important things to say about all of this:

        "Education in our times must try to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion, and to reconstruct the learning that would enable them autonomously to seek that completion."

        And again:

        "Fathers and mothers have lost the idea that the highest aspiration they might have for their children is for them to be wise... specialized competence and success are all that they can imagine."

        But not only fathers and mothers, I would add. All that seems to matter today is the "specialized competence and success." I do not necessarily have a problem with "specialized competence and success" in themselves, but education has lost its way when it pushes the notion that these things are all that matter. Education should also provide what Bloom talks about in the first quote—"to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion, and to reconstruct the learning that would enable them autonomously to seek that completion."
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    Mar 14 2012: I think courses that are geared to bringing about more creativity and courses on discussing/sharing ideas about art, the world etc are needed. I recommend seeing this TED talk as it explains it beautifully http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
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      Mar 15 2012: Thanks Jocelyne for your thoughts, and I agree, the Ken Robinson TED talk that you referenced was extraordinary and should be viewed by anyone concerned about the current state of education.
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      Mar 15 2012: Hey Jocelyne,

      What courses do you think "are geared to bringing about more creativity"?
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    Mar 16 2012: we can proceed if teachers ever run for congress and educate the dumb government and states? just saying the truth budgets control the educators and the tech self learning wont cut it.
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    Mar 15 2012: Ours (in the US) is basically the Bismark system of the 1700's brought to England and then to the US. The basis of education was to prepare the student for the military and industrial complexes. The focus today is to prepare the student for college. By adding Common Core Curriculum and standardizing testing through government intervention the idea of preparing the student for other careers that are not college related has been abandoned. Brick and mortar schools are in jeapordy to for profit on line diploma mills. The least of my concerns is to add a philosophy course to the electives.
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      Mar 15 2012: So, to reiterate the question that I posed, what do you think should be taught that isn't being taught now?