On deciding what we should teach in our public schools and elsewhere.

Meme quote:

Every high school should have a mandatory class called “Life” which teaches you how to: sew, change a tire/oil, do taxes, basic first aid, basic cooking etc. The basic things that you need in real life.


Interesting idea. Note that the Circle Pines summer camp experience does teach some important life skills already. See the reference section for more on Circle Pines Center.


“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
― Robert A. Heinlein


What about the families and friends? Don’t put more on the teachers. Teachers are overworked and under paid just trying to teach an overcrowded class.


InaM, some family and friends don’t know these things either!

[Also, a life skills course could teach] basic financial education including how credit and interest [can] destroy you!


I was just discussing this topic with my son’s dad yesterday. When we were in school, driver’s education happened through the schools. And we had shop and home economics. Our kids didn’t get any of these things, and [my son’s dad] taught my son to do taxes. I have been teaching my children how to sew, cook, garden, etc.


I’d like to come to the defense of teachers here.

Whenever someone suggests that our public schools should teach “more of topic X,” we need to think of how we’re asking our schools to allocate teacher time and other resources.

For example, here are two things to consider:

  1. We should consider whether we want teachers to teach less of some other set of topics. For example, we might say “Our schools should teach more of topic X and less of topics A, B, and C.”
  2. We should consider whether we want taxpayers to pay more to hire more teachers. We might say: “We should raise taxes so our schools can offer topic X as an elective.”

If we do not take points 2 and 3 into consideration, but we insist that teachers should just “teach more of topic X,” then implicitly we’re really just dumping the problem of resource allocation in their laps.

Finally, if we want to make topic X a required course, then we have to think about how students are supposed to allocate their time. For example, we might say: “We want our students to study more of topic X, and we we thing they should study less of topics A, B, and C.”


FMB, I agree. But having been a teacher for most of my career I would say that the real problem is the administrators, not the teachers. Even working for a big University, my productivity was hampered by lack of resources. Pain and a half to get a computer for your home. So I put out my own money to buy my own equipment and set up my own home lab. (If it were University equipment there would be rules on the kinds of software I could have.) The situation was far worse for our campuses, who were required to keep up with our curriculum without having access to our virtual labs. 🙁 My Grandpap used to call that penny wise but pound foolish.

I guess there was an assumption that people would fund research out of their research moneys. But if you do not bring in research money, and your focus is teaching kids the cutting edge, you are forced to fund it, and learn it, yourself. Sadly I think PSU’s overall strategy worked well for the 60s but is failing in the 2000s


First of all, we should understand that the purpose of a public education is to give the students the skills they need to survive. At least that should be the purpose. Basic academics, reading, writing, math, basic science. Should be covered as well as life skills – budgeting, taxes, job preparation, parenting, cooking, some basic mechanics. Of course this is a lot for 4 years, so some of this should start in middle school.

The other problem we have is with history. It has never been in the interest of the government to be accurate with history. We have done too many evil things. This is where the big fights will occur. Many parents want their kids to be programmed by the schools to agree with their particular bias. And sports, I would eliminate them except for club status. Art and music would be electives. But that is just me.


Good comments everyone – thank you!

Your comments bring some related questions to mind, such as:

  1. To what extent should we expect public schools to take responsibility for teaching our children various topics/skills. For example, these topics could include: “life skills” such as those mentioned in the meme above, math, science, technology, social science, writing, critical thinking, humanities, foreign languages, art, music, drama, etc.)?
  2. To what extent should parents and their friends take responsibility for teaching our children various topics/skills? Note that when we shift the responsibility to parents and friends, this lets the taxpayers off the hook.
  3. To what extent should parents outsource the responsibility for teaching their children various topics/skills? They could do this by, for example, sending them
    – to private boarding schools (e.g. Quaker schools like Olney),
    – to private summer camps at places like Circle Pines Center, or
    – to private folk schools (i.e. schools as defined by the Danish Folk School idea, which the founders of Circle Pines had in mind back in 1938 when CPC was established)?
  4. To what extent should parents have a say in what is (and is not) taught in public schools and private institutions? Note that if some parents do not like what’s being taught in a given private institution, then these parents can choose to not pay to send their kids. Also, if parents do like what’s being taught at a given private institution, then they can send their kids – if they can afford to do so.
  5. In a democracy, to what extent should parents have a say in what is being taught in public schools?

    – Some say “they should have a big say” because it’s part of being a citizen in a democracy and because they’re parents?

    – On the other hand, some say “parents should not have too much say” because teachers and other experts have training and expertise in the area of curriculum planning.

    BTW: These two points of view on the role of experts in a democracy are well expressed in the debate between John Dewey and Walter Lippmann, which happened back in the 1920s. See the references section for more on that debate.


A brief history of the folk high school

Circle Pines Center

The Dewey-Lippmann Debate

Olney Friends School

References on Circle Pines History and Co-op Economic Philosophy

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