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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Which subjects should a student study? 03-04

Which subjects should a student study?

Which subjects should be studied is a contentious issue.  Exactly who should decide which subjects are to be studied by a student? 

For some bizarre reason, we have acceded power for this decision to the government and to educators who supposedly “know better” than we do what our children are interested in, or should be interested in.

I’m personally a fan of the idea found in classical “liberal” education, in which the student is exposed to many subjects.   Please note that I said “exposed to”, not “forced to study”.

I believe strongly that we should allow students to experience the world and all of its many offerings – and then let the student tell us what they find of interest.  I think that it’s great when a student experiences everything from fishing to oboe, physics to cooking, map-making to star-charting – and then decides for him or herself what sparks his or her interest.

The moment that Little Johnny says “THAT interests me” is the moment that his parents and teachers should step in. They should create as much of an opportunity as possible for Johnny to truly experience in depth the subject that has caught his attention.

I also do somewhat agree with those who strongly feel that a student should acquire a level of understanding in certain “key subjects” commensurate to the needs of our civilization.  I personally think that a person who, for instance, has no knowledge of basic math, of government, or who is illiterate, who knows little or nothing about computers, science or art is to the extent of their lack of experience and knowledge handicapped.

But in the final analysis, and this may shock some of you – so what? No one does everything well.

Civilizations exist on the basis of specialization.  I know many fine and successful artists who can’t balance their checkbook.  They hire specialists, business managers, to do so – and hope that the people handling their money are honest and capable.  But these artists do some things that few others can do.  They are every bit as specialized as their business managers.  The artist’s specialty is the communication of ideas and emotions at a level demanding appreciation and response.  Now there’s a great specialization!   So if an artist does not know a pulsar from a carburetor, who cares?  There are astronomers and car mechanics that are equally specialized in their fields and who will pick up the pieces.

If a scientist knows nothing about football or home economics, who cares?  So long as he find that cure for cancer, an accomplishment that can only be reached by a person blessed with focus and a kind of tunnel-vision – and one which will change life on our planet.

If a lawyer is unaware of science, of math, of art – but he can protect the innocent from prosecution, then personally I do not care what else he knows.

If I personally were to set the standards for what should be studied, your students would be doing a lot of creative writing, history, science, speech and acting, etc.  And, well, um – no math.  And no dissections in Biology.  

Baseball and Basketball – yes.  Football, no.  Soccer, maybe.  Dance, assuredly, and voice.  Fishing, heavens no!  

Learning to handle a gun – never.

I should not set the standards for your student, certainly not regarding the subjects to be studied.  No one should decide what your student will study except the student him or herself, working closely with a teacher and family when necessary.

The correct standards for the subjects selected for study:

To be determined by the student as a natural part of a process of exposure to many, many subjects.  Once determined, to be encouraged and fueled by parents and teachers until, when and if the student either cries out “enough”, or better, takes on the entirety of the task of mastering that subject out of devotion, love and ambition.

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