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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.


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  • 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.

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