What should our kids be learning (or not learning)?

I have been a parent for over 10 years. Two of the three children I have helped raise are currently living with me full time and both are in school (Grade 1 and 5, respectively). The third (my stepson) is 16 and in high school.

I’d like to think that I have always been an attentive parent to my kid's education and what they are learning in school, but the truth is I take public education for granted (like most parents) and just assume that they are learning exactly what they need to be learning.

Over the last year, I have developed a closer relationship with them [due to separation from their mother, who is currently on a different continent). This means dinner time conversations are made up of a re-telling of the schoolyard dramas, and a very brief (and broken) recounting of the small bits they remember about what they were formally taught in class.

“We are learning about the Periodic Table in science today..” says my son.

I pause mid-chew, trying to recall my early science lessons on the periodic table. I can remember the basic, fundamental elements of physical reality but have difficulty in recalling their mass or position in the table itself. And considering I never pursued a career in chemistry I can barely recall (if at all) ever having to use that information in my life.

I offer a small nod to my son as my daughter, who is in grade 1, pipes in with her news for the day.

“I was bullied today. Two boys pushed me and hit me with sticks..”.

I nearly choke.

“Pardon me?”

I am not naive. I remember the bullies and conflicts when I went to school. I dealt with those issues in a different way back then and I wouldn’t recommend it as a procedure for my daughter to follow in resolving her own conflicts at school. I suppose I was caught off guard that such behavior would be continuing.

It wasn’t the first time I had my daughter telling me about similar issues (less violent) happening at school. I had raised my concerns to her teacher and those thoughts were echoed to the principal. Apparently, the message was not making it to the people (kids and their parents) who needed to hear it.

How frustrating.

It became clear to me that there seems to be a tremendous flaw in what our kids are learning in the early stages of their development [Kindergarten to Grade 8). I am sure somewhere in the curriculum it outlines an intention to socialize our children, but I am not sure the word socialize is properly understood by most educators (or parents for that matter).

For me, the idea of socializing should include teaching kids about the rules of the game. And what game is that? Well, the game we are all playing; the rules of which keep us from barbarism and all-out anarchy.

We know the boundaries of these rules because we respond very negatively to any type of news which includes someone breaking them. IE, crime, violence, corruption, etc.

However, conflict is not something that will ever go away. Its a natural occurrence in any “We-space” where there is learning and growing. People are going to disagree and that's alright. Learning how to navigate these conflicts is another essential element of socializing our kids that I think deserves more than just a brief chat about “safe hands” and “using your words”.

I have had to take the reigns many times in teaching my kids about honoring the “We space” and being conscious of the interiority of other people, and even at these young ages, it's still something they can grasp enough to practically apply (with best efforts) in their own experiences.

Learning how to learn

I started thinking more deeply about what my son had said about the periodic table. He said that even though he found it interesting, he wasn’t sure why he needed to learn about it. And I didn’t have a good reason to give him. And I am sure there will be a great collection of information and factoids that will be force-fed to him throughout his tenure as a public school student that will not be relevant later in his life.

My dad used to tell me, “Son, I’ve forgotten more than you will ever know..”. I don’t doubt it. Especially if the findings of Hermann Ebbinghaus are valid, and humans tend to halve their memory the less they use whatever knowledge they acquire, through time.

This brings me to the next thing I think should be central to the early learning of our kids;

LEARNING HOW TO LEARN

The human mind is very powerful and very complex. The full scope of its capabilities has yet to be understood though our educational system presupposes that our current knowledge of the mind is just fine when developing curriculums and structures for learning. Well, this is simply not the case.

I would say a vast majority of the kids today have a serious issue with retaining information and developing their understanding of what they learn in school because they do not have a developed structure for learning. They simply do not know how to learn. Listening to a teacher give a lesson or following along with a reading or taking notes is only a partial element to internalizing information.

The Best way to Learn; is to teach. — Frank Oppenheimer

An article in the British Psychological Society outlines how “Students who spend time teaching what they’ve learned go on to show better understanding and knowledge retention than students who simply spend the same time re-studying.”

This is absolutely true.

I ran an experiment with my son when I knew he was having difficulty with fractions in math (like everyone does), and told him to take as many notes as he could during class and then bring it home and teach it to me.

He spent the better part of an hour running a fractions workshop in our living room. He had moments where he had to stop to collect and organize his thoughts, being sure that he understood what he was trying to teach me. The point is though is that he was fully engaged with the material and had no choice but internalize it so that it could be communicated (taught) to me in his own words.

He has since become very confident with his fraction home-work and tests.

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Father of 2. Writer. Philosopher. Mental Scientist

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Ryan Hauck

Ryan Hauck

Father of 2. Writer. Philosopher. Mental Scientist

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