So what should children be taught, then?
The answer depends very much on what the purpose of education is, of course. Governments think that that purpose is to drill into them the tenets of fashionable orthodoxy, deprive them of the tools for independent thought, and prepare them for the role that the state thinks they should perform in society, I have argued that the state should limit its role to providing the means whereby children who could not otherwise have a proper education can achieve it, and leave the doing to others.
Education should be concerned with the individual, not with the construction of a given model of society. As such, children need to learn many things, understand why they are so, how we know them to be so, and the wider context in which their truth becomes important and related to other things. A generation of young people who have been allowed to learn to think, to understand the world about them and to develop a deep desire to be more than they are and a sense of how to bring it about would not only stand a much better chance of being successful, fulfilled and happy, but would also be likely to create a much wealthier and more successful society around them (although not necessarily the one that our great political thinkers believe they should create).
I suggest they should learn (and by that I mean be helped to understand, not just waffled at) the following as a starting point:
- That the world is a tough place, and their life will largely be what they make of it. They need to know that and to know how to make something of it.
- Numeracy, to a high level, including statistical analysis.
- Literacy, to a high level, to be able to acquire and process information easily, and to formulate and express a wide and complex range of ideas. And to enjoy what other people have cretaed.
- History/geography/biology, with the purpose of understanding the world they live in.
- Mathematics, not only for its own sake but as an essential tool of thought.
- Philosophy, not a history of ideas but an understanding of the reasoning that led to them. Another system of thought, which helps them to recognise when they are being fooled, or are fooling themselves into believing something which may not be true.
- Plumbing, electrics and bricklaying because they are very useful, save money and give a practical understanding of another part of life.
- Sport, both team and individual, because unless they learn not only what discipline is but also the practical benefits of it, they will not have the strength of will to do what they want to do.
This is, as I say, just a starting point, and I welcome further ideas. Chikldren waste years of their lives in schoold. If that time were properly used, in a few hours a day they could, by the age of 15 or so, be far better prepared for life- their own life- than 99% of what comes out of our schools today. And not as automata, but as happy, self-confident, productive people, fully prepared to take on the world. The rest, of course, would be up to them.
It is obviously important to stop trying to make education compulsory. Trying to force people who don't want to be there to turn up at school from time to time does nothing for them whatsoever other than to label them as delinquents, waste a huge amount of resources, waste the time of those who do want to make the most of their chances, and the energy and enthusiasm of the teachers who might have helped them to do it. Yes, it would probably create another kind of social problem, but in that case we should address that new problem when it arises, not pretend that ruining everyone else's educational opportunities is any kind of solution.
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