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Reduce the number of classes and refocus on fundamentals: Math, Science, and Language.

Modern students in America are bombarded with many class choices. It seems that we try, unsuccessfully, to turn our students into a swiss army knife of sorts, i.e. exposed to all kinds of various topics. Everything from basket weaving to ping-pong, with an equal sprinkle of math and science thrown in just so we can still call it a "school" instead of a playground.

I propose the following: Extend the time spent on Math, Science, and Language to 70-90 minutes. Get rid of classes that simply don't have a place in PRIMARY education (photography, art, music, etc). Focus our kids on the important subjects early on with a boatload of exposure to them, so by the time they enter High School they will have mastered Algebra, Trigonometry, Geometry, Writing, Reading Comprehension, Critical Thinking, and Scientific Principles.

Now, let me also expand on this and say that I don't advocate cutting out music, art, etc completely. But they should not be given equal time to the fundamentals. They should be incorporated as learning tools - for example using music and sound in science class. Using art in math, performing plays in language classes, etc.

I don't know if things changed in the last 30 years, but I very much remember many of my peers choosing one class or another simply because the workload was easier or the expectation was that the class would provide ample "nap time".

This proposal would create a highly focused early education, which would provide kids with more time on the fundamentals, expose them to critical thinking as they would connect fundamentals with applications in the real world, reduce the variety of teachers and all the costs associated with that, (perhaps) reduce the school day, reduce the number of materials needed to support classes (books, presentations, technology, etc).

Any thoughts? Good/Bad idea?

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    Jan 15 2012: Get rid of math science and language. Refocus on Music Art and Sports. Because when you look at it, that's where the money is. This society assigns value in monetary reward and those areas are rewarded handsomely. Why should we educate anyone about stuff the society does not value?
  • Jan 11 2012: I was struck by your comment because of a video I recently viewed on TED by Ken Robinson in which he talked about how schools stifle creativity by way of reduction in arts programs. I agree with this and would not like to see future generations creativity lacking because of something that could be so easily fixed.

    Clearly this implies that I was glad to see you mention that we shouldn't entirely disband the arts programs, also, because of the enjoyment a lot of kids get out of these classes perhaps it would be wise to require that a student maintains a certain grade level in order to take higher level courses of these classes. This would create an internal incentive for the students to do well in the fundamental courses in order to join and enjoy these classes.

    Clearly the above requires fine-tuning to be useful and more fair.

    Also, I disagree with your entire final paragraph. If anything I feel school days should be lengthened, at least, if they are to remain the same, the students should be expected to do more homework. I honestly feel like many schools are too lenient with the quality and quantity of student's work. The issue is certainly not only within the school or the children themselves, but us as an entire society. We should work on being more strict about our children in schools, that is, not being alright with C+ work. We should also emphasize the mindset that people are not simply born more intelligent (though it obviously plays a role in it) but that anyone can do just as well when they are willing to put forth the effort and work hard.

    I apologize if any of these ideas or issues have already been raised and confronted.
    • Jan 11 2012: Someone will advocate for whatever when decisions are made to reduce or eliminate something. Ken Robinson, of course, is no different. If we were to discuss making laws that will reign in Wall Street, I bet that we'd see commercials on TV extolling the virtues and all the wonderful jobs that get created whenever Wall Street gets to do whatever they want without any Government restrictions. When we want Landmines removed from our arsenals, we'll see Generals parade up and down Congressional hearings to tell us how they "save lives". When we want clean gases to spew out of industrial chimneys, we'll hear all about how all those healthy residents are now going to have to pony up higher taxes to help pay for those filters.


      The idea that creativity is born in fingerpainting and kite-flying is nonsense. Creativity is born in all kinds of things. It is born in the engineer that goes to the model shop to build a new bracket for the servo he's about to install. It's in the secretary that learned a new feature in MS Word to help her line columns up in her report. It's in the kid that's staring at a geometry proof, trying to find the logical steps that get him to show that the angles are indeed right angles. It's in the student that is trying various iterations of code to get his program to run correctly. It's in the kid that is trying different sequences of adding single digits to add those five 6-digit numbers together. It's in the teacher that is using a smart-board to bring video and sound to a 40-year old chemistry presentation.

      Budgets tend to be fixed. You can try to get creative (see $14B federal deficit), but in the end you have to fit so much into so many dollars. And yeah, when a school has to cut something, they need to look at their programs. Cut math, or cut music? Cut football, or cut the yearbook? If Ken can only point at "creativity" as a reason for keeping arts, let me ask this.... why do we have it in the first place?
  • Jan 10 2012: Beyond sports studies or other gimmicks... Hard facts. Currently, in NYS, kids are required to have gym at least every other day. In addition, most public schools have active sports programs. I tried to find some data in terms of %participation, but the only things I could [easily] find were studies in other states no later than 2001 (i.e. 10 years old or older).

    The 2009-2010 testing data (High School) shows that about one in three and one in four failed the Regents exams in Math and English, respectively ( The sad part is, that the Regents exam is an optional test, i.e. participation in the Regents courses is not a prerequisite for graduation. These same students could all have taken a lower level course with a national standardized (?) test instead. Funny thing - according to the same report the lower level courses have a slightly higher passing average, i.e. 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 fail, respectively, pretty much accross each metric.

    If you now go back to 4th grade scores, this is where it gets really interesting. According to the state data, our kids have much lower failure rates, about 1 in 8, at that level. So... here's my question, and again in context to my question about unfocused course work - what happened in those 8 years? EIGHT YEARS!! I understand that developmentally these are formative years. I understand that there are socioeconomic barriers. I *also* understand that in those 8 years NY spends about $140,000 per child, pretty much regardless of which part in the state they reside (city vs. upstate).

    I briefly perused a few course catalogues on line for middle and high schools. It disturbs me that there are -generally- more courses listed in the arts and social sciences section than in math and science. How come? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't we have 3 levels of trigonometry, 3 levels of statistics, rather than 4 levels of photography?
  • Jan 9 2012: I like the idea, Harro.

    It infuriates me that parents believe their child has a 'right' to music or art class and to school sports, all on the taxpayer's dime. If you want your child to learn to play the flute, pay for it. If you want them to take art class, pay for it. If you want your child to play basketball, take him down to the local recreation center and pay for it. I should not be held financially responsible for your child to find what his hobbies will be. It is ridiculous.

    The main problem in the US is that our 'education' system has become a union racket. The system wants more more more teachers and more more more money, but could not care less if the kids actually learn any marketable knowledge while present. And then someone comes along like yourself who wants to actually educate children, and you have people like Allan macdougall down below who seem to insinuate you have the destruction of society as your goal.

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      Jan 9 2012: Physical activity, school performance may be linked

      From the JAMA and Archives Journals media release:

      A systematic review of previous studies suggests that there may be a positive relationship between physical activity and the academic performance of children, according to a report in the January issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

      Amika Singh, Ph.D., of the Vrije Universiteit University Medical Center, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues reviewed evidence about the relationship between physical activity and academic performance because of concerns that pressure to improve test scores may often mean more instructional time for classroom subjects with less time for physical activity.

      The authors identified 10 observational and four interventional studies for review. Twelve of the studies were conducted in the United States, plus one in Canada and one in South Africa. Sample sizes ranged from 53 to about 12,000 participants between the ages of 6 years and 18 years. Follow-up varied from eight weeks to more than five years.

      "According to the best-evidence synthesis, we found strong evidence of a significant positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance. The findings of one high-quality intervention study and one high-quality observational study suggest that being more physically active is positively related to improved academic performance in children," the authors comment.

      Background information in the article suggests that exercise may help cognition by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain, increasing levels of norepinephrine and endorphins to decrease stress and improve mood, and increasing growth factors that help create new nerve cells and support synaptic plasticity.

      There are others.
      • Jan 9 2012: ... And yet, somehow "everyone" (with few exceptions) in upper level sports both at the collegiate level, olympic, and pro sports generally has been UNDEREDUCATED. In fact, the NCAA, years ago, after decades of failing athletes finally passed mandatory GPA standards for all collegiate level athletes.

        If we were to look at the study and nothing else, one would make the connection that sports=smart kids. It *truly* (you don't know how much) pains me to have to say that the reality has proven otherwise. Yes, there are kids that excel in math *and* sports. There are those that have learned to balance their play time with study time. But let's be honest here - We're talking about America, where we push our kids to become jocks from the first time they swing a club or catch a ball. Often, very often, these same kids have a better chance of getting a sports scholarship instead of an academic one. {Does anyone have figures on how many sports scholarships there are vs. academic ones? I would love to see that figure. Honestly I don't know, but THAT would be a worthwhile investigation.}

        I'm definately taking your post into a different direction - my apologies. But, honestly, don't you "feel" like this study is essentially an apology for not teaching? Next, we'll find a study on how music makes our kids smarter. Or how computer exposure (mostly macs, not so much PC's) make them smarter still. Hey, you know... we are the country with the most athletes, most computers, and biggest music industry. Yet, our kids are failing more and more each year.
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          Jan 9 2012: You know, there is a difference between getting some physical activity and spending all day doing it. And no, it does not follow that sports => smart.

          Why is it that so many Americans I encounter online are unfamiliar with "balance" as a concept? Never mind logic.

          How does this sound at all logical?

          If getting physical activity gets more oxygen to the brain making it possible for kids to focus and retain more information, then spending all day doing exercise should preclude any need to actually learn anything.

          Seriously? That seems like a reasonable syllogism to you?
      • Jan 9 2012: I have a meeting at 5:30 so I can't respond fully but want to catch you now if possible -

        Do the studies indicate that the physical activity has to occur in the same environment as the learning to show results?

        Do the studies indicate what time limits and the number of physical sessions which align with best results and positive influence?

        And - property taxes fund education (along with the feds) so no not all parents are paying the same taxes.

        I will respond fully with a little research myself in a few hours.


        *do you really think my conception of the world economy is an amalgamation of factories or are you blatantly over-simplifying the argument - again? I just said that mathematicians and scientists have shaped history. Do you think I am referencing factory workers? I know you are not that dense. It just isn't quite as biting to quip "why are we producing engineers?" huh?
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          Jan 9 2012: "Background information in the article suggests that exercise may help cognition by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain, increasing levels of norepinephrine and endorphins to decrease stress and improve mood, and increasing growth factors that help create new nerve cells and support synaptic plasticity."

          That's not going to hold up four, six hours later - or if they are doing it in the evenings, not going to withstand sleeping. Really, for kids to be performing at peak levels, they should be drinking beet juice and taking short breaks every half hour or so - even just to stand up and shake their bodies out. BTW, I hate beets, so I am not suggesting that out of some perverse beet-loving hippy philosophy.

          (And the factory comment was about the perception that the education system exists to churn out people who can be productive at various tiers of society, with the broadest grouping being factory workers. It was about the perceived goals, not you specifically. There are a great many people who argue that the current education system was designed to support the Henry Ford ideal worker -- a much longer argument could ensue. My fault for assuming everyone is familiar with this.)
      • Jan 10 2012: "My fault for assuming everyone is familiar with this."

        No, the fault is mine. I assumed that when you replied to my comment, it would be in response to my points or opinion and not introducing a new theory to criticize. Thus I thought you were linking your 'Henry Ford model' theory with my own.

        You are right that increased blood flow and the release of certain neuro-transmitters would not hold up over a long period. The improved synaptic plasticity and increase nerve cell production is a long lasting, beneficial impact. This seems to confirm something we have long known - that health is mental, physical, and spiritual(?).

        I, too, hate beets. But the scenario you outline is not antithetical to my position. My 'if you want your kid to play basketball...' comment was aimed at organized school sports, not phys. ed. If an instructor wishes to stretch out his pupils before the lesson (or during it), more power to him. So long as he is teaching biology or history, and not music appreciation or world religions.

        I am not arguing teaching styles. I am arguing the hierarchy of material and wherein that hierarchy our focus should be.

        You state down below that our goal should be 'maximum flexibility,' and I agree. I just do not think you do so by delaying a child's introduction to algebra until the seventh grade. Or by delaying an in-depth study of physics until the twelfth. Nor are you bettering an eight year old by teaching him Health. It is a waste of time and resources (except for the union's perspective, who now have an additional teacher and resources at their disposal). Or my personal favorite - Computer Class. Do kids learn how a computer operates in Computer Class? Of course they don't. They learn how to use Microsoft. As if anyone born after 1996 needs anyone born prior to 1969 to explain Microsoft to them. But there is a room full of new computers, nice, shiny and paid for by the taxpayer.

      • Jan 10 2012: Continuation

        I am not quite certain where we disagree, since your comments weren't in opposition to my own, so let's just try this -

        I believe our current system needs to be altered. Do you agree?

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          Jan 10 2012: Oh the system is broken in soooooo many ways.

          I think I objected to the idea that removing arts and physical education would somehow make things better and that if parents wanted their kids to experience these things, they should pay for it themselves - which immediately puts children of poor parents at a disadvantage.

          These classes also serve a vital purpose in rounding out kids - even down to how their brains develop. The more sectors in which you have the fundamentals (including the ability to read music) the better.

          I think the issue isn't removing other elements, it's that the teaching styles are inadequate to cover what should be covered in the time allotted.

          And yes, I probably have a skewed idea of how long it should take to learn something, but I also know that with bad(ly trained?) teachers it took me longer to map things out. I had -- what was for most my time in school -- the distinct advantage of being an aural learner, but when matched with other styles of teaching things went (relatively) slower.

          I actually close my eyes when I'm listening, which people find disconcerting. I'm not ignoring you, I'm shutting out extraneous input. There were a couple of teachers that that really offended. There's no magic cookie cutter when it comes to education.
      • Jan 11 2012: "The more sectors in which you have the fundamentals (including the ability to read music) the better."

        I think this is an important point - the ideal of the curriculum and what actually gets taught are separated by a vast chasm of difference. When you talk about 'Music Class' you justifiably assume that kids will learn to read music at some point in the year. Not the case. In middle school, I took a half-year music elective. We played 'Hot Cross Buns' on a recorder and watched The Sound of Music. In most elementary schools, Music Class consists of learning the lyrics to the four or five songs to be sung at the next recital.
        It goes back to my original criticism - that the 'education system' is a union racket which exists solely to perpetuate it's own existence and not to actually educate kids in a meaningful manner. If we could engineer one full-year (or two-year) course in the sixth grade (I do not think the taxpayer ought to fund elementary recitals) to truly teach kids to read music and introduce them to several instruments, I am on board. But you can easily imagine how, with four decades of baseline budgetting, a single full-year (or two-year) course can become five years of recitals, a year of 'Hot Cross Buns,' and an introduction to reading music only in highschool Band when the student has, by that time, spent 225 hours minimum in 'Music Class.' And if you can not imagine it, look into the SC Education System.

        So please understand that when I criticize something like 'Music Class,' I am criticizing what is actually being taught, not the ideal.

      • Jan 11 2012: Continuation

        "..the teaching styles are inadequate to cover what should be covered in the time allotted."

        I absolutely agree. But I do think the curriculum needs to be altered and some things removed, some things added.

        I think a mastery of algebra and trig by the sixth grade would deepen the student's understanding of music theory in the seventh and eighth. I think learning several languages would deepen a student's understanding of music theory. It is not that I want to stress maths, sciences, and languages at the expense if other subjects. It is that I believe the classics provide the best basis for the accumulation of new knowledge and should thus form the bulk of primary education.

        "There's no magic cookie cutter when it comes to education."

        I agree. But it is a crucial issue. Our current system fails our children, familues and ultimately our communities.

        "-which automatically puts poor families at a disadvantage."

        We are just going to disagree here. Taking a poor child out of Music Class or Cultural Appreciation, and putting him in chemistry or algebra is not putting him at a disadvantage. Poor families do not need platitudes or subsidized sympathy. They need their children to graduate with marketable knowledge and skills so they can lift the family out of poverty.

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          Jan 11 2012: I would think that they would already be taking the chemistry or algebra, rather than as an either-or proposition.

          EDIT: Also a half-year music elective sounds utterly useless for anything else. It sounds like something that should only be offered after taking the fundamentals so that you could explore other instruments or other musical systems.

          Not really sure what Cultural Appreciation is - is it something akin to a Social Studies class?
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      Jan 9 2012: Also, do these parents not pay taxes themselves?

      So many other questions arise:
      Why are we still using school to raise a generation of factory workers? Whose goals are we satisfying with the education system? Should parents pay into a system that is churning out workers for industry? Shouldn't industry pay for this themselves?

      If we are schooling children for the benefit of society as a whole, what are the criteria and targets?
      • Jan 9 2012: (1) We can't all be office workers and artists. In fact, one could argue that in a healthy economy, we would have a majority of factory workers. If the majority of workers don't create viable products, but instead are involved in secondary "production" of services and support facilities (i.e. social work, art, medical industry, etc), then eventually there comes a tipping point where the economy can't pay for itself. Witness: Greece.

        (2) I know from personal experience - very recent experience in fact - of having spoken to a couple of local businessmen about the quality of job applicants. One of them had an opening for a "sales person" for over 9 months now (retail sales). He's had over 400 applications of which he seriously considered about 10%, and had tried out about 3 people thus far. None of them could do the job. The other acquaintance mentioned (separately) that he couldn't find an engineer for his job opening, and that the job had been open for more than 3 years now. Put that in perspective with other recent articles in the NYtimes and other trade publications where businesses where crying about unqualified applicants and a dearth of skilled labor (and not just blue collar).
        -- Contrast that to the teaching industry for a minute (a separate issue, but loosely related to my points) - There were 40 opening in my county about 2 years ago. One of my teaching friends applied, and was told that over 4,000 people had applied, even from several states away?!

        At some point our kids ARE going to enter the job market. And unfortunately, not just for those kids but also unfortunately for the employers, our country as a whole: If they can't meet basic skills criteria with jumping jacks and pan-fluting, they're going to find themselves in a world of diminishing returns very quickly. Lack of focus > lack of basic skills > lack of higher education > lack of a job. The math is excruciatingly simple. Just look up 24 year-olds still living with Mom and Dad...
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          Jan 9 2012: But as we progress to a world with fewer factories (whether they are simply going off-shore or the work is being done through robotic technology) we need to change the model on which education is delivered.

          Your second point actually supports my premise that what we are doing with the education system is wrong. We should be giving them maximum flexibility, not focusing strictly on the basics, which frankly are antithetical to fields like sales. There are kids who naturally possess the basics that would lead them into sales - supporting and developing those skills would happen in what are currently elective classes.

          Speaking in specifics, I am deathly logical. I can write excellent marketing copy but I am not a salesperson. I don't relate well to strangers. I'm a features not benefits person. In short, I am a math personality. You want the music/arts personalities in sales - the people who can trigger emotions. You may even want to attempt to get the naturally math-inclined types to understand some of the basics of the arts and invoking emotions so that they can do the sales in a pinch.

          If someone can't get to the basics by grade 6, then the system overall is broken.

          That may be a slightly unfair assessment as I've been reading since 2 and walked into school reading at a grade 13 level, but I am pretty sure that effective teachers should be able to get kids to the general level of knowledge by grade six, leaving the rest of the years for both diversification and specialization. I don't think the average person really needs to know more than rudimentary concepts in trignometry or algebra.

          There are a set of concepts that you will need to know regardless of your career path and I just can't see it taking more than, let's even push it to grade 8. It should not take until grade 12 to be able to spell properly.

          So, no, I don't think that removing other subjects will help if someone doesn't have those skills by that point.
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    Jan 9 2012: I dont like this idea. I am passionate with math & fundamentals but I am sure that they worth to be loved for free. The worse idea for math is to teach the math without passion for it. I am sure that the education kills all the capabilities all the talents step by step. It is necessary to make a free contact with the children not forcing them. We now are so far from ourselves that soon will manage to kill a lot of creativeness at all.
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    Jan 8 2012: Maybe instead of turning one child into a "Swiss army knife" the options are there so that different children can better themselves in their own niches.

    While yes, I agree that everyone needs fundamentals, let's face it, most people don't really require algebra, trigonometry, AND calculus. If you haven't given people the fundamentals by grade 9, maybe 10, then something is screwy with the system. (Which it is.)
    • Jan 10 2012: Gisela,You make a *fantastic* point. Somewhat tangent to my underlying thoughts, but you definately exposed an important nerve in your comment. "We don't all need algebra, trig, and calc". But we should have at least as many varying subjects in math as we have in art?! We should have a semester for each of the various levels of statistics. Several semester courses on the various levels of geometry. Maybe a class in "geometry in architecture and art". Maybe a class in "the science of sound" instead of "percussion instruments I, II, and III", or a series of photography courses.You do agree that we need the fundamentals, and I can't imagine anyone successfully arguing the opposite. But that exactly hits the nail on the head. Our kids don't have a grasp on those same fundamentals you're mentioning. Those fundamentals aren't taught in that semester or two that they're on the curriculum. I spent about 5 months on algebra, and the other 3 on "other" math subjects my 1st year in the US. And then, the next year, we pretty much did the same. Contrast that to my experience in Germany. I spent 2 whole years with the same Math teacher on algebra, and nothing but algebra. And then 1 year on Geometry and Geometric proofs.Even now, 30 years later I can honestly look at most of my peers and "geometrically" and "algebraicly" (is that a real word?) fly circles around them. Most couldn't tell you the difference between a circle's diameter and tangent line or recite the angular relationships. I haven't taken a Math course in ages, but those fundamentals were so deeply ingrained in me that I still understand them today. And these very same colleagues of ours are now looking for a new economy, a new culture. And that's why companies are leaving our shores, and we're $12B (or more) in debt. Heck, one could probably argue that not even our leaders are good at math, although that would probably thread more on political lines than actual facts.
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        Jan 11 2012: Your syllogisms are baffling.

        "We don't all need algebra, trig, and calc. But we should have at least as many varying subjects in math as we have in art?!"

        Did I say we shouldn't offer all three types of math? Did I say we _all_ need multiple types of art? Does anything I said actually imply either of these things -- from the actual text, not from some additional premise you are pulling out of your ass?

        One of the classes I would like to see become mandatory is a rudimentary logic course (rhetoric and reasoning, specifically). I think it would help with media literacy and make for a much better-skilled population in deciphering what politicians are actually saying.
        • Jan 11 2012: Added two quotes around the 3rd sentence. Hope they help decypher my post a bit. Apologies for not including them in the first place.

          Your implication of kids bettering themselves in their own niches is a reference to allowing academic freedom, aka ... "fluff". Isn't that what we're talking about here? The fluff that right now is around music and art and non-fundamentals. That same money, effort, time that could be spent on teaching fundamentals. When you're describing a failing system by 9th and 10th grade, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Hence my proposition of reducing "fluff" and spending more time on basic, classical skills ("math, science, language") to get our students to a level where we can then "fluff" them up in High School. 4 years before entering notions of college. As much as 8 years before entering the work force. Why do we have all kinds of classes in art? Why do we have all kinds of classes in music? Is the end effect that our kids are going to be more creative (references posts by several other authors here)?

          There's some weird notion that perhaps not in this particular thread but certainly is found just about everywhere else in discussions about education: "Teaching fundamentals crushes creativity, limits children in their aspirations." Heck, maybe it causes global warming according to the teacher's unions?!

          Why do we have niches for 12 year olds? Shouldn't we have everyone that is 12 have some grasp of fundamental math, basic scientific principles, and a unifying language? How about being creative, niched, specialized, etc from 14 to 18? Wouldn't that help focus our kids and education dollars a little more?

          Another direction for thought - how many college students go into college with "general studies" or "undeclared majors" into the sophomore and junior year? There are a few colleges in the city of NY that have 4 year graduation rates in the single digits. And... yes, those are tax dollars too.
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        Jan 14 2012: Your reading comprehension is as bad as your logic. "Shouldn't we have everyone that is 12 have some grasp of fundamental math, basic scientific principles, and a unifying language? How about being creative, niched, specialized, etc from 14 to 18?"

        That's pretty much what I said. "If you haven't given people the fundamentals by grade 9, maybe 10, then something is screwy with the system."

        If you are waiting until the end of high school to have basic writing and math skills - not talking about being a specialist, but enough to do a wide array of jobs - then you are leaving it too late. Do you really think that someone who hasn't 'got it' by grade 6 or 8 is magically going to be able to acquire it in another four years? Those are years for expanding on what you've learned and both gaining depth and breadth.

        On top of that, what you're calling "fluff", I call "differentiation".

        In high school, my version of fluff was Latin (took it from grades 9 - 12 though it was slated for grades 10-13 - and despite being with slightly older students, I won 3 out of the 4 awards).

        But it's entirely latent now, I haven't had call to use it in years (though, I don't think I've ever signed a contract without striking at least one clause based on the fact that I can read legalese like plain English). It's a dead language. It's not particularly relevant or even directly useful, but it does have a wide range of tangential applications in my life.

        I didn't take a lot of art in high school, but I studied philosophy and film theory at university and the latter did have a shitload of art history & theory involved. Both of these have enriched what I do on a daily basis, even though they are not "fundamentals".

        "Another direction for thought - how many college students go into college with 'general studies' or 'undeclared majors' into the sophomore and junior year?" Who cares? I didn't even finish my BA. I got hired in my third year and never went back.
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    Jan 7 2012: The Arts are not fundamental as stand-alone subjects...?

    What sort of society do you really think your proposals would produce?

    Your idea of the fundamentals are very science/logic based, and would not in my opinion encourage the development of rounded individuals. Nor are they likely to respect students who may not possess the natural aptitude for science and math, but instead may have a great talent for the performing arts - just as one example.

    Where does creativity of any description fit into your proposal?

    Have you seen any of Sir Ken Robinson's talks on TED? You might just change your mind.
    • Jan 8 2012: Allan, let me illustrate my view a little further - I think it will allay some of your fears. (1) I don't advocate the complete dismantling of performing arts classes. Just the active role they have now as separate subjects in the years leading up to High School. Kids would participate in performing arts events, but only as they led towards a learning goal in the other primary subjects. (2) High School is currently 4 years long. That's a long time for anyone to develop talents in performing arts. I believe this would be more than sufficient, not to mention that the view that 4 and 5 year old kids develop talents which they then carry throughout the rest of their life is based on "fairy tale" and "hollywood BS" thinking. I know there are going to be dance-moms and football dads that disagree with me. My view regarding their kids is this: It is not the responsibility of taxpayers, the state, and the people of a community to shoulder the burden of someone - even a child - to pursuit secondary goals that fall outside of the state's responsibility to provide an education. If parents want their kids to be exposed to these things, fine. There is no need to not have them exposed to these. However, this should be at the expense of the family that makes that decision, not the 4 out of 5 other families that don't have kids. (3) Why is there no creativity in science, math, and language? I would argue that there is infinite creativity in all of these. Math proofs require imagination, science problems need critical thinking. The idea that creativity only comes from turning clay pots and acting on a stage are silly. In fact, if you talked to some professionals in some of these disciplines, you would find that few people actually deploy anything "creative" in their field. There's a ton of derivative work and industrial processes in jobs most think are "creative", and many creative processes in industrial jobs.
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        Jan 8 2012: Harro, I am not just concerned about the performing arts. I merely mentioned that as just one manifestation of the broader gamut of creativity, in which children may show more aptitude than they would otherwise have revealed in the sciences.

        I agree with you that turning pots and acting on stage are very minor elements within that broad creativity spectrum.

        What does concern me is the secondary importance you appear to apportion to creativity as a stand-alone discipline. You seem instead to want to relegate it as a secondary attachment to science and math

        What you also seem to be saying is that the requirements of the state, along with the current industrial/economic environment should effectively be the dominant touchstone for the writing of future curricula for young students.

        Firstly I would say that such curricula would be already outmoded even before it starts - and is clearly not future-proofed, given that the current political/economic/industrial norms are about to undergo a colossal shake-up, the proportions of which are hitherto unknown to us – the generation who created that norm. Who knows where that fall-out will land - or even what that fall-out will look like.

        If that is true, then a reliance on an enhanced version of a tired old curriculum, as a relic of the industrial revolution, will almost certainly not be the answer to our future problems.
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        Jan 8 2012: [...Cont'd]

        The answers lie in powerfully creative young minds, ones that are free and uncontaminated by the strictures of what has been historically fixed and what seemed to work for us in the past (but now doesn't). Getting a hold on any idea of what the future may hold for us, starts with creativity; this must then be supported by science and math, once new directions has been envisioned.

        In times of trouble, such as we face right now, the next generation would need to have access to as many creative neurones as possible, and it is beholden upon our generation to provide an educational environment to nurture this. A curriculum that enables the contemplation of the implicit as well as the explicit so we can then move forward into the future instead of getting hopelessly bogged down in the past.
        • Jan 9 2012: Allan,

          You can create powerful young minds in the context of the sciences, maths and languages. Parents can also help create powerful young minds by introducing them to other experiences outside of the classroom. "Fostering Creativity" should not be the purview of the education system.

          "Getting a hold of any idea of what the future holds for us, begins with creativity."

          Wrong. Getting a hold of what the future holds begins with understanding history and the forces at work. Understanding history begins with having a base understanding of the knowledge which has driven our history. The future does not create itself, it does not spontaneously organize. It is the result of a causal chain of events stretching back into history. Artists have not shaped history - scientists and mathematicians have. Guess who will shape the future?

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        Jan 10 2012: I am not specifically referring to Artists, Seth. I am talking about the encouragement, in the education system, of broader creative thought in young people (which may include art as a mechanism for freeing up stale thought processes)

        I agree that history should inform the future, but the envisioning of a future fit for global purpose will only be truly achieved by a multi disciplinary approach from the future generations that OUR generation have the responsibility to educate - including guess what?...Creativity.

        Please don't get me wrong - I am fully aware of the importance of science in shaping the future. But there should also be the awareness that truly great things can happen when science works together with a capacity for creativity, as an equal, rather than being regarded as some kind of nebulous entity relegated to a lowly place within the education system.

        "Creativity represents a miraculous coming together of the uninhibited energy of the child with its apparent opposite and enemy, the sense of order imposed on the disciplined adult intelligence"
        (Norman Podhoretz)

        “Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality overcomes everything.”
        (George Lois)
  • Jan 6 2012: An interesting suggestion but warrants more research. Studies suggest that the time learning should be of high quality not quantity. Kids do not retain more given more time. They retain given the quality of the input suggesting that more time is not the answer. From my perspective, I want to spend time on my strengths and interests. Success breeds success. The problem with current school system is that they are constrained to teach to a students weakness. Teaching to meet testing standards. If I am a poor reader and writer, I have to spend less time on my strong subjects and more on my weakness. Remedial work lowers interest and overall intelligence by focusing too much on what student are not good at. Think of a jeep on a race track or a ferarri off road. Not the right fit. Look into Harvard Professor Howard Gardeners multiple intelligences theories. Fascinating material suggesting that we are all capable of quality learning if the input is not in conflict with our inherent intelligence. For example, Michael Jordan was lousy at reading and writing but superior in kinesthetics. I.M Pi is gifted visually and spacially and with math but not the written word. Einstein as well. No gift for sitting at a desk learning to read and write. He flunked out of school. All the hours in the day spent on reading and writing would not make a difference. Let him spend time on his interests of math and science and the quality value shoots to the moon. Look at the contributions he made. Stephen King, self professed that he cannot balance a check book. Richard Branson cannot read or understand his many companies financial statements.

    Just imagine what a tremendous impact schools would have on society if they were able to teach to a students individual abilities and strengths. much greater productivity and far less troubles, Kids would want to go to school.
    Teach to a kids weakness and all falls, teach to their strengths and the weaknesses will rise, pride too.

    Quality not quantity
    • Jan 6 2012: Good points Andrew, but fundamentally flawed. You point at a few focused studies. My perspective comes from my personal observations, having had the first few years of study in Germany before coming to the US, and from a multitude of data that seems to pour in from all over the world, i.e. how our kids are simply not competitive anymore.

      Look at some college campuses. Ever notice that there are more and more foreign students enrolled in the US? Ever talk to a college professor about the quality (or lack thereof) of our High School Graduates? The average High School Graduate, after 7 hours * 5 days /week * 32 weeks / year * 12 years = 13,440 hours of schooling still sucks at basic arithmetic, can't do word math problems correctly, can't figure out basic science problems, and have trouble with basic grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

      Call me crazy, but I'm *pretty sure* that sports, music appreciation, painting, photography, wood shop, and all kinds of other niche "arts-and-crafts" type courses aren't going to resolve any of that. I've listened to too many silly studies that proclaim that listening to classic music will turn someone into a math genius, or that kids need to be exposed to every possible facet of our society.

      Kids make up their mind about what they'll become sometime between age 16 and age 24, not between age 6 and 16. We are a sum total of our experiences. But...if those experiences are finger painting and etch-a-sketch until we're 16.... well, no wonder we still can't multiply 12x12 without the help of Siri...?!
      • Jan 9 2012: Haro,
        You missed my point and you obviously have not researched this very deeply or you would find that there are hundreds if not thousands of studies that are inline with my thoughts. You assume that kids don't want to do anything but arts and crafts. Wrong. All kids inherently want to learn. We as a species are wired to direct our learning toward our curiosities. Observe any child at play, in the woods, at a beach, in their back yard or with a box of legos. Most will be focused on something of interest to them. I watched several children on the beach last summer completely focused on a tide pool. They spent several hours, until the tide rose, fully consumed in that square yard of life observing, experimenting and playing. I know that opportunity exists in those moments when their brains are most open to learning and believe that retention will be at its greatest.. People have a predisposition to excel where their interests lay. Haven't you been so engrossed in a book that you couldn't put it down? I will wager the book was not war and peace. Read up on the methods of the best private schools or simply their mission statements. The majority that their goal is to find where a childs interest lay and expand upon it. Look to experts like Dr Mel Levine, Dr Sally Shawitz,Dr Howard Gardener. Gardener has developed the multiple intelligences theory which explains this as fact after decades of observation. Evaluation of his theory is significant so much to the point that many private schools have developed highly successful curriculum based upon his theories.

        I I believe that current methods in the public system are at fault. Teaching to standardized tests is where the greatest flaw resides. So much time is spent on rote memory rather than experiental learning. I look back on my education and the most prevelant memories are from my hands on classes like biology, chemistry, photography etc..

        Experiential education takes time but has a far greater impact
      • Jan 9 2012: Lastly, you ignore the fact that in many countries students are distributed to schools that are more focused to their aptitudes. You use Germany as an good example. Students there are segregated at the age of 10 by their strengths. They are transfered to focus programs. (sound familiar?) Science. Language, Math, Tech and, yes, Art. Each year after, their education is further refined until college. I have German relatives who complain about that system too. Students may graduate with excellence in math and science but are dismal with language. In the US, kids have to succeed in all areas of study in order to graduate.

        In conclusion, the current US public school system did work but is now a half century behind business. It is innefective in most cases. There are exceptions. However, we are falling farther behind the developed world. Attitudes of most students is terrible. Until we reach kids where their interests lay, we will continue this decline.s Change is on the horizon as more choices become available. There are amazing statistics appearing that suggest students continuing on from public focus/charter schools and home school are as successful in college as those hailing from private schools. Also suggested is that a greater percent of these kids persue higher education.

        Maybe the specialization of the school system isn't such a bad idea. Privatization is a great model. Supply and demand, succesful systems will thrive and the bad will vanish.

        What are your thoughts?


        Have a great day
        • Jan 11 2012: Andrew, my experiences in Germany propelled me to the top of my classes here in the US. I'll never forget the first few times my American teachers called me to the blackboard for some math problems, specifically geometry and algebra. It's been 30 years, but I still can picture how flabbergasted their faces looked when they saw my scribbles on the blackboard. In retrospect, I believe that they may have tried to point out the superiority of the American education vs. what they probably thought of where I came from. Aside from making a "1" look like a "7", i.e. German script vs. American script, I think they didn't teach me a thing I didn't already know for the first 2 or 3 years. That's scary. I completed 7th Grade in Germany and began 8th Grade in the US. By 7th grade, I was years ahead of my American peers. That was Long Island, NY, and upstate NY, not some "hick-town" USA. Good teachers, good programs, good schools. And they sucked compared to my little Kreis-Gymnasium Heinsberg, which is located out in the deepest cow-infested corner of Germany near the Dutch/Belgian border. And, let me add this: I certainly wasn't the best student in Germany. Honestly, I believe this is a little more than anecdotal in quality. In fact, my opinion was confirmed a couple of years later when a foreign exchange student from Germany befriended me in one of my math classes near the end of High School (jr or sr year). He too didn't learn a thing here. He, again, was ahead of the class and ahead of me, as by then I had become fully integrated with the course work here in the US. He had been doing Calculus and high level Statistics when he came over. We were starting to learn Trigonomety. Think about that for second. He was going to enter university with several years of exposure to calculus! Calculus wasn't even offered in my (american) school! But hey... I had a huge choice of art and drawing classes, music, and home ed courses, which he didn't have.
        • Jan 11 2012: In Germany, there were two sets of choices. First, just like you pointed out, beginning with 5th grade students are classified into 3-4 groups: Gymnasium, Real Schule, Hauptschule, and Sonderschule, which, roughly, classify kids from University-bound down to special education, respectively. Secondly, at regular intervals, i.e. beginning with 5th grade and then again at 7th grade (for Gymnasium students), students are put on various foreign language tracks. I had 3 years of English and one year of French by the end of 7th grade. I believe Real- Sonderschule students may not even have that, i.e. only one foreign language. In terms of focus programs? I have no clue what you're talking about. There was a chess club. Most schools had chess clubs.Here, it was/is a little different. There are 20 or so art classes to choose from, including the prerequiste/corequisite courses. A lot of technology courses. A bunch of programming courses (my schools had close associations with IBM). A zillion gym classes to choose from. Social studies, health, etc. And don't get me started on afterschool sports/clubs/activities. It was a wonder I knew where to go half the time. You can't imagine my perplexed look the first time I had to deal with a "school locker". Little things. Here, we have so many classes that you end up with so many books (books on how to paint and take photos and turn clay pots), that you can't carry them all at the same time. I never had that problem in Germany. I had 7 periods and kept all my books in a "ranzen" which I carried around. Teachers came to our classroom, not the other way around. My notebooks were the size of a thin paperback magazine (Germany), not the size of of a phone book (US). I think just the savings in books could make a reduction in "extraneous" classes worthwhile. Think of the trees we'll save.