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Should we force kids to learn material they don't show interest in?

As a college graduate I was thinking about how much material I have studied in all of my educational career and then promptly forgotten after the test. Is it a waste of time to try and learn something you are not interested in? To what extent should we allow educational autonomy?

There are a lot of different ways to be intelligent. Memorization and regurgitation are just one small facet.

  • Feb 5 2013: You are hinting at something along the lines of having a students education being molded to that particular individual, and not applied to a general population. This is slowly starting to happen, but at the same time, you have to look at education from several perspectives, since it's such a complex issue.

    I am currently in college, and I know how you feel. I am taking classes that I normally would not take unless I was forced to. Although a good amount of this information is something that I don't find interesting right now, I have no idea if I will have use for it in the future. But I'd rather have general background knowledge about a particular subject versus knowing nothing at all.

    It also is hard to tell what subjects are actually "needed" by an individual. Also, some of my favorite classes were from subjects that I would never have taken on my own. Many of my friends have changed their majors, and therefore the entire direction of their future, due to classes like these. I am sure there are just as many people who thought of those classes as a waste of time.

    I guess the question I would ask is, how can we make the information we "need" to prepare someone for the world interesting to every single student? I would like to be able to have greater freedom in choosing a teacher that works for me, as well as a time that works for me, as well as a format that works for me. Some of us don't learn so well from someone with a monotone voice at 8:30 in the morning with a class of 250 students:/
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      Feb 5 2013: Good points Ryan, and I agree that as we become more aware of the fact that we all learn differently, I believe people within educational systems are realizing that it may be benificial to "mold" programs to fit student's interests.

      I also agree that sometimes, we discover interest in the least likely you say....some of your friends have changed their direction due to what they discovered in classes that they may not have been particularly interested in.

      You ask..."how can we make the information we "need" to prepare someone for the world interesting to every single student?"

      I suggest that we probably cannot make information interesting to every single student, and that is where the student may have a responsibility? When we engage in something with curiosity, and intent to learn something, it usually is a more beneficial experience. So in some respects, we have an opportunity to create interest. If we continually think of something as a "waste of time", that is exactly the reality we create for ourselves. If we are open to the possibility of discovering SOMETHING interesting in each and every interaction, that is also the reality we create for ourselves. Based on your comment, it appears that you and your friends are open minded, open hearted and genuinely exploring possibilities:>)

      Another factor, is that perhaps it is unrealistic to assume a college age person is going to decide what s/he will do for the rest of their life? I am 60+ years of age, I've had several very interesting, challenging, some lucrative (some not so much) careers, and volunteer opportunities, and I have LOVED the opportunity to explore all of them with curiosity. We are living so much longer now, perhaps it would be good to let go of that idea that we need to decide at age 20, what we are going to do for the rest of our lives?
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    Feb 3 2013: The best course of action is to make the most vital material interesting for students, connecting it to their lives and involving them in using it in ways that show them its value. Then the issue of forcing anyone to do anything doesn't need to arise.

    Some kids, like some adults, are not very open to new experiences and ways of looking at things. It's important in some cases to show the value of trying new things to such a reluctant person.

    No one thinks memorizing and regurgitating tons of stuff is important, except that one has to memorize lots of vocabulary to be able to use or read in languages without the headache of looking up five words in every sentence one reads. There are some things some teachers require kids to memorize that to me make no sense, often in history classes, but I have never taught history, so maybe there is a pedagogical rationale I just don't understand.

    There are also some things kids are not required to memorize for school that they love to memorize anyway, for reasons I have never understood, like hundreds of digits of pi.
  • Feb 9 2013: is everything useful also innately interesting?

    memorization and regurgitation are not intelligence. being able to work out when where and how to regurgitate information you've memorized is. many students suffer from the illusion that material is useless, because they don't see the skills they've picked up while being exposed to it. even if you don't become an artist, having taken some art classes will help you understand and appreciate the variety of aesthetics better, and your presentations will be more visually appealing than if you hadn't. your speech and writing will be better from having studied shakespeare than something more interesting to the current generation like 'twilight', and you will be more likely to be able to instinctively avoid a crash from having taken physics. similarly, while memorizing something, while the thing you are memorizing isn't necessarily important, being able to memorize through having done it is.

    you might have forgotten the details of what you've learned, but the way your brain is able to analyse information now is purely because of it.
    • Feb 9 2013: you are thoroughly right, often we might have forgotten about what we've learn , but our brain will act differently because of the information its received. we have to get through of these material learning because we never know how the future will lead us
      • Feb 9 2013: another good point! now i'm in my 30s and i still don't presume to know what i will never need, yet plenty of students who haven't even begun to experience the wider world or even their own life are ready to declare so much as a useless waste of time.
    • Feb 9 2013: You will remember that you once knew making it more accessible to learn it again.
      • Feb 9 2013: yet another very good point! the ability to think in particular ways is learnable up to only about age 18-20. it's no coincidence that so many societies set this age as the beginning of adulthood. from what i've read and studied, those neural pathways are very hard to alter past that age - you can teah an old dog new tricks but it's much harder than if the trick was learnt once before at a younger age.
  • Feb 6 2013: As Vincenzo Sergi and Angela Basile have stated, it is important to expose an individual to academics and materials, which at that time; they may have no interest in the matter, but the exposure will expand their mind with new perspectives and in the future that unwanted material may be a piece of needed information that helps resolve an issue. This exposure makes an individual open-minded to attain new information in the future.
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    Feb 4 2013: yes we should force kids to learn things that presently they show no interest in. As children their lack of interests are the reason of inexperience. No subject or experiece should be left without exploration. If left alone most children will play and play..... I would have to assume that they would become very good players but, I am glad that I was forced to learn, with time I realized how wonderful all knowledge really is. I became hooked. Till this day it hasn't hurt me.
    • Feb 6 2013: Hi Vince, I agree with you completely. As a parent, it is our duty and responsibility to encourage our children to open their minds to learn beyond what they are interested in.
  • W T

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    Feb 9 2013: What did you have for breakfast July 23, 2001?

    We forget.......sometimes what we eat is not very interesting.....sometimes the conversations we have with others is not very interesting.....sometimes our jobs are not very interesting.....but we nevertheless have to nourish our bodies, interact with others, and pay bills.

    Life I think, is about compromise.

    Today you as a youth have alot of options that were not there for me 30 years ago. You are able to enrich your learning of any material by going online and finding ways to appreciate what your learning through youtube videos, and free turorial sites.

    All I had was a professor and about dull.

    Still, I appreciated my education, and I had the same issues you are having....."why do I have to take this boring class?" In the end, I came out the winner.

    Somebody did something right in the schooling of all the individuals that have commented thus far.

    Because even though we forget material that we have memorized just to pass a test within hours of passing the test, it is still somewhere in our mind........we are making connections when we learn new things.

    To answer your question directly.....No kids should not be forced.....and in reality they are have choices.

    Kids drop out of school all the time to pursue other goals. You do have educational autonomy.

    My answer is a potpourri of thoughts.....if something doesn't make sense just let me know and I'll try to clarify.
    • Feb 9 2013: You are right with the internet and things like the Khan Institute students do have a new kind of educational autonomy. I disagree though, most people don't think of dropouts as kids taking their education in their own hands. It would be interesting to find a study about why students dropout.

      I guess some material that I memorized for tests is still in the back of my head. I would have trouble recalling it but could recognize if something reminded me.

      I think we can do way better.
  • Feb 9 2013: Force seems like a very strong word. And yes, I believe that we all should learn even about things that were aren't necessarily interested in or have no intention developing any expertise in. I well-rounded education in very crucial in holistic development. Being introduced to many different topics is how we eventually find our interests and passions.

    I think that the first and second part of your question does not necessarily relate; or should not necessarily be in the same question or topic. While I believe that learning and staying informed about many different topics and fields of study is NOT a waste of time, I also believe that "memorization and regurgitation" is not the best way to "test" what has been learned.

    While I'm not convinced that kids should be given complete autonomy in making their own curriculum and only learning about what they may think are their only interests, I also think that we really need a change in how the curriculum, learning, and education are being delivered. Education and learning has to be revolutionized, because we, as a society have changed immensely. So why shouldn't the medium and vectors through which we learn or get our information from change?

    I always thought that if professors started tweeting the key points of their lectures (and maybe make it mandatory for their students to "follow" them), the world just might get a bit smarter--or at least more informed.
    • Feb 9 2013: The student does not decide the curriculum. And what options he is given is very limited. Force may be too strong but there is a definate lack of choice. The less self autonomy we give our children the less self autonomy they will have as young adults.

      I see a better approach is to introduce all subjects with relevance and try to make it interesting. If a student still doesn't show interest then why have them spend a whole year studying in detail subject matter?

      Memorization doesnt have to be the only way to learn. In fact its quite boring and maybe that's why so many people can't recall what they once knew for a test.
  • Feb 6 2013: Absolutely not. Very very basics should be included so that any child will have a foundation for language, social interaction, and future learning. But beyond that why not let them do what they're inclined to do? What they're passionate about? What they'll excel at? They'll have a better quality of life and provide more for their communities and the economy.

    To those that say it exposes you to things you might otherwise never find interest in:
    Expose students to the ends which different subjects can achieve, instead of having them memorize all the fine details which don't apply to them. Any student would be more inclined to study biology if instead of memorizing facts about tRNA, and mitochondria, and centrioles, they instead were exposed to what biology-knowledge can do. It empowers one to create GMO crops to feed starving nations, cure disease, bring quality healthcare to the masses, the ability to create and change the world. So instead of taking years of biology throughout highschool and college, maybe expose kids occasionally to "ads" for biology.

    To those that say little kids are too inexperienced to know what to learn:
    Certainly children won't develop an affinity for, say, history unless they understand why it's important. But they have the most inquisitive, plastic minds of anyone and they are BUILT to learn. So instead of boring them with subjects that don't interest them and creating industrialized drones, empower them to achieve whatever degree of learning suits them and they will pursue it. For example, little boys like to blow stuff up. Instead of incentivizing kids to learn math for math's sake, show them how a little math can help them build an awesome trebuchet. You better bet they'll learn math if you provide the right incentive, and they'll be grateful for what they learned instead of sick of cramming for pointless (in their minds) tests.
  • Feb 5 2013: By "force" do you mean just teachers' and parents' authoritarian ways of educating kids?
    If so, then I guess it depends on what kind of "force" they use.
    For example, they—teachers and parents—could manipulatively use “reinforcement(with reward)” and “punishment” strategies to help students to learn more about some subject, which they aren’t really fond of.

    What's worse is adults' cleverly planned "make-you-realize-the-reality" education strategy.
    It's more complicated and could be more manipulative.

    Educators keep telling their students that the outside of the class is filled with competitive atmosphere, which means students should find a way to survive in there: Study hard!
    "If you don't learn about this, you wouldn't get a good grade on this subject. And if you don't get a good grade on this subject, you'll probably fail to enter the college you want to go(could be you’ve been wanting to go). And if you fail to go to college, it's quite possible that you wouldn't get a good job you want to take. You would be unemployed and people around you would think of you as a pitiful creature. That is, your life would be miserable without this long process of learning. Do you understand?"

    Although the way to make students understand the reality and persuade them to study hard no matter what could be different, in essence, we can say that this kind of approach is also part of forcing students to learn material they don't show interest in. I have to say, it’s kind of brutal..

    Fyi, I've seen this kind of approach a lot. The result: perfect score on your math test, terrible "math-hangover" after each test. Students just hope that this—the period of learning of a subject—would end soon—“Sooner the better!”
    • Feb 6 2013: I understand what you are saying Elizabeth, I agree. And I would add that even when students receive good marks on their schoolwork it doesn't necessarily mean the student will retain that knowledge. Ultimately, it is up to the students brain to decide if those memories are worth keeping. A lot of time students just study to get a good grade but don't really care for the material.
  • Feb 4 2013: In a democracy, if children do not learn about democracy, they will not be able to preserve it as adults. Also, the value of democracy cannot be taught without teaching history and current events. It is impossible to understand your place in the world without learning the basics of geography and how to use a map.

    So, to function at a minimum level of competency as adults, children must learn a few things whether they are interested or not. Another example is basic health and hygiene.

    I agree with Fritzie that most everything that is vital to our lives can be made interesting to children, and force is not necessary. The key is that these subjects are vital. Show children the importance of these subjects, to them personally, and they will be full of questions.
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      Feb 4 2013: I agree Barry, and your mention of learning about democracy reminds me of this TED talk, which I LOVE.

      I believe there are ALWAYS possibilities to engage children AND adults in ways that are appealing, exciting enjoyable, challenging and respectful to all participants.

      I agree with you and others on this thread who have expressed the idea that "most everything that is vital to our lives can be made interesting, and force is not necessary".
    • Feb 4 2013: Sure there are foundational subjects. And yes everything that is taught should be made interesting and relevant. It definately was not my experience that public schools taught this way. Although some teachers are better than other my experience is that public education has one teaching style and one curriculum.
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    Feb 3 2013: There are important things that kids have to learn. They should also be encouraged to learn things that they find interesting. Kids should not be given the freedom of choice that they are not equiped and matured enough to handle. THere has to be some foundational guardiance.
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    Gail .

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    Feb 3 2013: Reading, writing, arithmetic, and the love of learning. These should be taught to all. Beyond that, let learning go where it may.

    All kids are naturally curious, so when I say that we should teach love of learning, it is more like we should teach kids how to find answers to questions they have, and allow them the joy of learning through experimentation.
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      Feb 3 2013: To that I would add history. These are the basics that everyone should have broad knowledge of.
      • Feb 3 2013: I believe history is a subject that a child should learn only if he/she wants to. History is told differently by different societies, cultures, people so I don't think it is a keystone subject so to speak.
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          Feb 3 2013: I have to strongly disagree. A basic understanding of the history of one's society is essential. A child doesn't need to a deep or detailed education in it, only enough to understand the society one resides in. It's just like arithmetic, you may shun and dislike it as an adult, but you need to have been generally introduced to it as a child.
      • Feb 4 2013: Who gets to tell the story of one's society? What if the parents story is different than the schools? What is notable in history? Why isn't natural history as basic to our education?

        My point is history is controversial. I think once you teach reading you can introduce the child to all kinds of things including history.
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      Feb 3 2013: I'd quickly agree to that, if it's REAL history and not just dates and boring stuff. If it's left at what I remember it being, it's a huge waste of time (as is obvious by how Americans haven't learned a thing about history and seem determined to re-walk some very dangerous roads). How I hated history, until much later when I understood what an exciting field of study it is. It's not really as much about history as it is the parts that make history real.

      I've never read an interesting history text book - not when I was in school or my daughter. Those books miss the point!
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      Feb 4 2013: TED Lover, Lawren and Brian,
      I wholeheartedly agree TED Lover, that it is important to encourage the love of learning. I believe learning will indeed "go where it may", and as you point out, there are different methods of learning. I agree that most kids are naturally curious, and I think/feel it is beneficial to encourage curiosity throughout our life adventure.

      I'm with you Brian, and your statement..."I was thinking about how much material I have studied in all of my educational career and then promptly forgotten after the test. There are a lot of different ways to be intelligent. Memorization and regurgitation are just one small facet"

      I was never good in a classroom setting, and I also memorized lots of information in order to pass the tests. Some of that information was "regurgitated" for use later in life.....some not. When all my friends were participating in higher education, I was exploring many different avenues of the life experience with practical involvement and application. When I started guest lecturing at the university, I always encouraged the students to participate with discussion, rather than listen to me speak for hours:>) For me, participation is more valuable than simply memorizing information, and I believe all methods of learning are valuable, depending on the preference of the student.

      l agree with Lawren that history is valuable and also agree with Brian that history gives us the background of different societies and cultures, which may open our worldview tremendously, so I think/feel it IS very important.

      In my experience, it depends on how history is taught. I had no interest in history in school, because it was about memorizing names and dates for the test. There didn't seem to be any interesting connections made in history books or classes. As an adult, reading historical novels, traveling, genuinely exploring history, cultures and people's background is amazing, astounding, fascinating and VERY interesting:>)
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    Feb 9 2013: Hi Brian,
    first of all , I'd like to thank u for this important topic that you have shared with us and then I think that memorization is not considered as a kind of intelligence or a special skill because everyone could do it.concerning your question I believe that kids need to learn everything starting by biology till mathematics because in that period of time their mind is not already ready to determinate what should or shouldn't learn and it's likely to get and memorize information easier,of course I'm talking about the elementary school period.once the pupil reach the high school I think he's going to be able to chose what way is the most suitable for him ,in this level the student can chose a particular course and focus on it a 100% without caring about other materials .
  • Feb 9 2013: With young kids in school now, I'm considering 'what' school is in a new way. Primary school is about conformity. As they get older critical thinking is (hopefully) built into the curriculum. If they go through college, then I trust they will have the ability to digest any subject or problem reasonably and methodically. There is a lot I learned in school that has nothing to do with my day-to-day life. As has been said in this conversation many times, school teaches mostly how to think. However, there is a lot of that 'useless' information that comes back to me to inform my understanding on a broad array of topics, making them more accessible and, therefore, more meaningful to me.

    Letting kids choose? Depends on the age. What child before the ages of 16-18 really knows 'what' is good for them? Or what will be useful 10+ years down the road. Public schools, in my estimation, teach to a level of greatest common denominator. Rote learning (memorization and regurgitation) seems to be the biggest brush schools can paint everyone with. I've heard of private schools that use different teaching systems that foster independent progress and outcomes. Could all students thrive in an environment like that? I don't know. I wish I could afford those schools, as do many who have kids in public education.

    To address the original question, I think that more choices should open up to students as they get older. There are the basic mechanisms of intelligence that have to first be instilled. Once that foundation is laid and the child is old enough to understand what they want and, to a small degree, who they are curriculum choice makes more sense. Giving them free reign would be counterproductive, though.

    One thing I can say about my education is that I'm grateful for both aspects: what I had to learn and the choices given to me to pursue my interests. Because of that I can intelligently digest and discuss many topics, which provides me a richer existence.
  • Feb 9 2013: we should not force kids to learn material they don't show interest in because we make it a burden which they don't like to carry. Their mind and heart don't accept that thing which results most of the time in failure but in contrast to this we should figure out the material they show interest and give them a guide line about that things.
  • Feb 9 2013: Dear,
    Greeting before all.

    First of all, kids are the key for better future, and we are the tool to make that key works well or just a key that open no doors, the point is yes we should teach our kids but without forcing them, instead we should follow what they like, what they want and how they want things, i am not saying so spoiled way but show you care and without pushing them.
    So far i believe that if you force a kid nor to do something more he is likely will do it when you are absent.
    to short cut the answer my view will go more for wise, calm, peaceful way and building a good structure for a kid will totaly help the present and the future of the whole society...
  • Feb 8 2013: How can teachers make subjects interesting and relevant?
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    Feb 8 2013: Well, I'll just keep replying since your convo expires soon. It seems to me you are raising two different issues. One is the issue of narrowness of expertise, you're saying that each professor only has a small field he/she is interested in. I could see this as a strength because they'll actually be good at this field. Well, I cannot remember if algebra was required, was it? If it wasn't, and you didn't want to take it, you just didn't take it. If it was required, well, I would suppose someone made a decision that algebra is worth knowing for life. The thing is, though, Brian, algebra is hard. To really get it under your belt, I would think you'd have to spend a school year on it, doing it over and over with different kinds of word problems, really working it until you have it for life. I'm fifty-two and I use it occasionally, and I'm guessing I remember it because we drilled it over and over until we remembered it.

    The other issue you're raising is whether it has practical use. As I say, I use it occasionally, but I'm not knowledgeable enough to gauge whether it should be required. Right now I can't think of a specific example, but I know it has come up where I have three knowns and I want to know what the fourth, x, is. Oh just hypothetically, let's say you had a tire that extended four inches from the rim, and you knew the tire held sixty pounds of air. You're thinking of buying a tire that extends six inches from the rim and you want to know how many pounds of air that will take, who knows why, maybe you have an air cylinder that only has so much air left in it. It's not a very good example, but that would be an algebra problem, it can come in handy. Also it gives me an appreciation, like when I read an article about science or math in a magazine I appreciate it more because I have a knowledge about the basics of math and science.
    • Feb 8 2013: I don't know if your just trying to disagree with everything I have to say or you honestly have a completely different opinion. haha

      Algebra was mandatory yes. I don't want someone to decide what's required for me to learn in life. I want an overview of subjects, I want relevance, I want critical thinking and creativity. Eventually yes a student has to decide what they want to focus on. Once they have is when I see the need for classes like algebra (if it pertains).
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        Feb 9 2013: Well, your comment is really interesting, Brian. I wish I hadmore time to think about it.

        I probably took algebra at age thirteen. I don't know if I could have decided what I wanted to do at age thirteen and picked my classes accordingly. But I was quite happy to take a variety of classes (many were required), because I had the sense that I would be a well-rounded individual, that as I got older and tried to meet the challenges of life it would help to have a variety of skills. And it does, I can say at age 52 that it really helps me to have a varied set of skills and knowledge.

        I honestly use algebra from time to time, and it really comes in handy in a very practical way. Here's another lousy example: if I know I get a certain amount of interest per month on my savings, but the month is cut short, to say 28 days, how much interest should I expect to get. This is a bad example because it's kind of OCD, it's not going to be that much different; but other more relevant examples do arise.

        But you know, maybe you don't have a math mind. But maybe you should change and become more math-oriented, if just for your finances. What about these rock stars who make millions of dollars and don't know where it all goes because they dislike math?
    • Feb 9 2013: yeah it is, came up again and again while i was doing chemistry at university. even integrals were necessary! absolutely tedious and completely uninteresting calculations, but the end point to which we were applying them was exceedingly interesting.
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        Feb 9 2013: Yeah, right, Ben, but what would you say to an artist who wanted nothing to do with math and science (see my answer above).
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    Feb 7 2013: Brian, how are you using "science" below? If you take an art class, is there really a "scientific" approach?
    • Feb 8 2013: 'I don't think we need to have a curriculum that's goal is for all of its students to become scientists. I am using science broadly. Students should be introduced to subjects and be able to dig deeper if they so choose. I think school is a turn off when one has to study minute details on a subject they are not even interested in.'

      Academia like to refer to their subject as a science. Social science, earth science, life science, etc. My point was that subject matter can be presented in way relevant to student. I think it is a disservice to teach the subject matter with theories or in depth details.
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        Feb 8 2013: I don't know, Brian, it still seems to me you get more choice as you get older. And you get to choose whether you want an in-depth course on one subject, or a broad course that gives you an overview of a field. I suppose in any class there will be a little give-and-take where you won't be thrilled about every aspect of the course, but wouldn't that be impossible to design a course where every aspect would thrill every student, even though the students all have different personalities? I mean, there may be nothing in life where you're thrilled about every aspect, you may like your job but dislike certain aspects, you may like your spouse but dislike certain aspects.

        But you know, I expect I'm misunderstanding you. You probably have a more powerful point that I'm not quite getting. I'm just replying cause your convo is about to expire.
        • Feb 8 2013: Well I think part of the problem with education is that the educator has a narrow field of knowledge that he/she can teach. How much practical knowledge can an algebra teacher give to a student? I don't know because I didn't get anything out of algebra. And if I was interested in algebra I didn't know how it was used in professional careers. I guess my point here is that specialization of labor for educators is not a good thing.
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    Feb 7 2013: We should be teaching kids "how to think and the communicant thoughts" and stop this "What to think" dumbing-down.

    It is not the subjects that are failing to be interesting, it is the teachers and material they are giving that are brain numbing boring.
  • Feb 7 2013: I don't think we should force a kid to memorize, we should find a way to connect information and knowledge to things kids are passionate about and they can relate to. Memorization without a purpose is just a waste of time and brain power.
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    Feb 6 2013: I also do not use 90% of things I learned at school and universities. The value of learning things is not the things we learn. The value is learning how to learn.

    I wrote and defended 2 theses in graduate schools. One was about electronic paramagnetic resonance of cadmium halide crystals, another about characterization of alternating-current thin film electroluminescent devices. Are you excited yet? None of these subjects have any practical significance today. But in the process I learned how to acquire and process data, how to present the data in scientific papers, how to research literature - and these skills I use every day now.

    My son says that school algebra class is boring for him, because he understands the topic before the teacher finishes explaining it. His grade is not great, because, as he says, he makes mistakes in tedious calculations in home work assignments and tests. To avoid calculation mistakes, he decided to solve problems by writing programs on his TI calculator. So, he is learning programming BECAUSE he is bored.

    And, by the way, patience, effort and self-control are useful skills by themselves.

    We learn from any experiences, especially from negative ones.
    • Feb 6 2013: "I wrote and defended 2 theses in graduate schools."

      So you learned how to learn by doing these 2 projects, but that was toward the end of grad school. Sure you did similar stuff throughout your learning career, but why not help people focus a little more on these kinds of projects that help you learn. Your projects were learning to know how to learn, but I'd argue that by far the vast majority of my education in the U.S. has unintentionally boiled down to cramming to learn how to cram. I'm not going to spend my time intimately learning something if I know I'll never use it, so I gladly cram over true learning. But there are plenty of things I spend countless hours on myself where the learning is more pure, would it be so difficult to make learning a little more applicable to people?
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        Feb 7 2013: Perhaps, these quotes from Mark Twain could shed some light on the issue... or add to the confusion :-)

        "What work I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been work I shouldn't have done it.

        Who was it who said, "Blessed is the man who has found his work"? Whoever it was he had the right idea in his mind. Mark you, he says his work--not somebody else's work. The work that is really a man's own work is play and not work at all. Cursed is the man who has found some other man's work and cannot lose it. When we talk about the great workers of the world we really mean the great players of the world. The fellows who groan and sweat under the weary load of toil that they bear never can hope to do anything great. How can they when their souls are in a ferment of revolt against the employment of their hands and brains? The product of slavery, intellectual or physical, can never be great."
        - "A Humorist's Confession," The New York Times, 11/26/1905
        • Feb 9 2013: I'll be the odd one and say the first one not so much, the second one while definitely not a subject I'm strong or very knowledgeable in, I'd want to read and learn a bit more about the subject and would read a paper on said subject. Then again I'm interested in computer
          technology, more specifically the fields of computer science and computer engineering so it perks my interest a bit.
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      Feb 7 2013: Arkady,
      Mark Twain said cool!!! I don't think I ever heard it, and I call everything my work/play:>)

      I honestly cannot say that I'm excited about "electronic paramagnetic resonance of cadmium halide crystals", or " characterization of alternating-current thin film electroluminescent devices". :>)

      I AM excited about your perception that we can learn how to learn. I have sat in hundreds of classes, workshops, conferences, etc., (as many of us have done), and when leaving, felt like I may have gotten a couple usefull snippets of information. Many times, down the road however, information that was presented will pop in when it is needed......where the heck did THAT come from.....oh.....I was a class or workshop I attended years ago.... LOL!

      You say..."would it be so difficult to make learning a little more applicable to people?"

      That is an excellent idea, however, it may not be very realistic because we are all different.....we learn differently....assimilate and use information differently, so it would be very difficult to make learning applicalbe to all people.....wouldn't it? We certainly CAN, however make an attempt.

      When I was guest lecturing at the univ. for example, we (the professor and I) spoke in the large classes, and then seperated the large classes into small discussion groups. which gave the students a chance to participate in discussions with their own perspectives. This practice engaged the students AND also gave them the opportunity to participate on an equal level with the teachers. So, we all became teachers and students, which I feel is empowering to all of us.

      I feel that the teachers AND students have the responsibility to contribute to the learning process. We, as individuals can sift through information to a certain degree, and decide for ourselves what serves us AND the whole at any given time.
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    Feb 6 2013: I think, a talented teacher who is passionate about what he/she teaches can excite interest in that subject in almost anyone. On the other hand, a boring teacher can make any subject look boring.

    I remember studying a subject in college that didn't seem like much fun until we had a substitute teacher in one of the classes. That teacher captured everyone's attention at once and kept it till the end of the class. Ever since, I kept wondering if that skill can be learned. Teacher's personality and teaching style has a major role in how we perceive the subject.
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    Feb 6 2013: I think education system should be reshaped.
    We live in age of information, so information changes faster, that educational programs.
    Teachers that teach children are from other times, i mean "it was like that then".
    12 years i was learning my language and i nearly passed out exams.
    But there was no english in my school and i have learned it somehow, without education and learning, also other languages.
    Schools should teach children how to think, not what to think. Focus on critical thinking.
    I had problems in my school and were learning only what was interesting to me, for example not try to learn geography,history (we move forward in life), music, math in higher grades (*when i don't understood what can i calculate with it), literature (*our national is boring) wanted chemistry, but teacher had problems explaining things to all children.
    Weird thing is that i had average grades in school, but when we done IQ test, only one guy from all had same score as mine, well he had best grades in school.
    So i think in reality, we get infromation that we need from everywhere, so school should only build logical thinking and brain will do the rest of work.
    Schools should teach only scientific (biology, anatomy, chemistry, physics, math, astronomy) and make it interesting, also english and grammar, other should by by choice.
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    Feb 6 2013: Of course! My kids show no interest whatsoever in washing dishes. I don't care. They learned anyway.

    Yes we learn a lot of stuff that maybe we never will use again. My head is full of completely useless information. But i would rather have that than an empty head.
    • Feb 7 2013: What if you had a head full of information relevant to you? Who says it has to be completely useless?
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    Feb 6 2013: I think it is the fear of not giving sufficient information in school what makes the curricula so packed with unnecessary topics.

    It is a good idea to introduce students into different majors, but that doesn't mean they have to be expert in everything to choose what they want to do for their careers!

    Memorizing and taking tests is just the worst model for education. Who started this way of teaching? It distracts us from the true purpose of school and turns knowledge into numbers and ratings. We need a system that gives the student a better reason to study other than just a grade.

    We need a system that brings us back to the meaning of education.
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    Feb 6 2013: Pushing something that bores them is a surefire way to put them off for life. A better approach, I think, is to stop and think about their existing interests and find ways that will enhance those interests and delight them.
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      Feb 6 2013: But there is so much context one can bring into the classroom that doesn't involve staring at a screen that can situate material in an interesting context relevant to students. I always asked my students to fill out a card for me the first day about their interests, dreams, and ambitions, and took my contexts and examples from that information. I never forgot their interests and aspirations and engaged with them about that regularly in the context of the course content.
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    Feb 6 2013: Well put Angela.
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    Feb 5 2013: This is a good question, even with the loaded word "force." Of all the classes I took in high school, art and yearbook are the only two I chose. I didn't want to take senior English or chemistry or calculus or civics. Now, decades later, I am a high school English teacher, and every day I am glad my parents and advisors made me take those classes, not because derivatives come up in poetry but because I can refer to bits and pieces that I remember of those classes and get my students to think and discuss and write. Not every essay for an English class has to be about a Shakespearean sonnet. Also, if I can get my students used to the idea of thinking about the overlap of their classes, then they will be more insightful and, therefore, better students.

    I don't use information from calculus and statistics every day, but my brothers the engineer and the warehouse manager do. I don't use stuff from econ. every day, but my brother in marketing does. We all had to take those classes with little promise or expectation that we'd ever use that stuff, but we do use it and in unexpected ways.

    Having said all that, though, I must say that education is very complex in terms of curriculum and pedagogy. I love the idea of "educational autonomy" but don't see how it's possible in our current educational environment. I think people (whoever they may be) could come up with an essential and minimal core of courses and then let students go where their talents and interests take them. There are too many noneducational interests invested in education, though, for something like that to happen.

    This is a question all educators should think about. Maybe stick "Why" in front of your question. . .
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    Feb 4 2013: I disagree with the word "force". As a society we should teach K thru 12 students what is necessary to be functioning, critical-thinking, productive, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. Extra-curricular activity aside, students cannot establish their own curriculum based on their current interests.
    • Feb 4 2013: Ok maybe force isn't the right word. The threat of getting bad grades isn't force. Although bad grades can be detrimental to one's future.

      I think if we really did a good job of teaching critical thinking we'd have a generation that refuses to pay their taxes. Haha .. I'm only slightly joking
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        Feb 6 2013: Hi Brian. I did not once envision 'force' for this particular subject as being used in the Medieval torture type of way, One could never learn that way. And for those that might have interpreted that way..... how about, strongly encourage??
  • Feb 3 2013: If it will be important to them in the future.
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    Feb 2 2013: Might want to put more time on this. Hit "edit" to add time.

    Well, they say nothing is ever wasted in nature, and I think life in general is that way, nothing we learn is ever wasted. Actually, as you grow from kindergarten, you have increasing choice over what you learn and can choose things you are interested in. I do think our society believes everybody should have certain basic skills, however.
    • Feb 3 2013: Sure one can learn from mistakes but an education should help the child get on the track of avoiding some of what life will throw. If we emphasis critical thinking and creativity for example. The human brain is a supercomputer and I do believe we need to see that every child gets to use it before they get the attitude that school sucks.
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        Feb 4 2013: Well, Brian, I tend to want to defend education because I enjoyed my school years. I did not find that it was all about memorization or regurgitation. New concepts were presented to us over and over in all my classes, many of the new concepts were difficult and took effort to understand, and I think it exercised my brain to do the work to get the new concepts "under my belt." This would have been true both in math and science and in the humanities. There were many opportunities to take art classes and expand creativity.

        I was on the fast track academically. I was in the mentally gifted minor program in elementary school, took all the hardest courses in junior high and high school, and went on to Stanford bachelor's. Most of my friends were also really smart. I don't know, where were you, or are you, academically?
        • Feb 4 2013: Ok so you had a different educational career than the majority. I had your standard public high school, public university education.

          I don't think we need to have a curriculum that's goal is for all of its students to become scientists. I am using science broadly. Students should be introduced to subjects and be able to dig deeper if they so choose. I think school is a turn off when one has to study minute details on a subject they are not even interested in.