What is the Point of Lower Education?

In the comments to a recent Linky Friday, doughty commenter Kolohe pointed out some awful stats related to the DC high schools.

That got me wondering, though. What is the point of High School?

To put a finer point on it, I was trying to come up with a list of things that we should expect every high school graduate to be able to do. Not a particularly long list, of course, just a list that could get me to say that if I met a high school graduate who could *NOT* do everything on this list that I would see him as having been failed by those charged to educate him (or, I suppose, see him as having failed to meet his educators halfway).

(As far as I know, everybody who graduated with me in my graduation class was able to do everything on this list.)

1. Read a book about as tough as Animal Farm and summarize it
2. Algebra II level stuff. Maybe not be able to sing the quadratic equation to the tune of “Pop Goes The Weasel” but could, when given the equation and a, b, and c, plug in the values and tell me what at least one value of X was.
3. Write a five paragraph essay
4. Read a scale, a thermometer, and a measuring flask

I’m trying to come up with more, but each extra entry I’m making to the list gets me to say “well, maybe not everybody could do that…” like, name the three branches of American Government? Hrm. I don’t know that everybody could do that… Outline how a bill becomes a law? Hrm… Not sure…

But I’m pretty much certain that every single person who graduated from my high school was able to do at least a satisfactory job doing those things.

And, more than that, I’d say that any high school that graduated a student that could *NOT* do those four things had failed that student (or, I suppose, we could be in a place where the student was messed up beyond the point of being teachable).

I know that there are a lot of things that we might put on such a list for *OUR* children, of course… “Not only will you be able to do those things, but you’ll be able to write a five paragraph essay about having read a book *TWICE* as difficult as Animal Farm! Like, The Phantom Toolbooth!” But I’m just looking at a list of things that we can say that a high school that fails to graduate a significant number of children who can do these things is a failing high school (like, we won’t be able to just point at the students and conclude that, hey, they’re *ALL* broken beyond our ability to educate them).

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95 thoughts on “What is the Point of Lower Education?

  1. In thinking about the point of middle school, I think it’s more or less to just get the kids to the point where they can start high school.

    Elementary? Get them to be able to start middle.

    But the goal is to end up with a kid who can write a five-paragraph essay and tell you what the hypotenuse is if you give them a and b (and I’m not even expecting a and b to be anything but 3 and 4).


  2. -Functional literacy
    -Able to do basic Geometry & Algebra
    -Basics of Physics/Chemistry (it’s how the world works) & Biology/Human Anatomy (it’s your body)
    -Have to understand how government works so they can participate in the process. Hell, that is a huge part of why public education is a must, so the citizenry can at least have a shot at participating in the political process.


  3. Statistics- how to use them and what they mean. We are inundated with stats. They have a lot of uses and power along with various misuses and lack of understanding. How to analyze data is a key skill and will only become more important for most of us at work and for everyone in our private and civic lives.


    • That seems to me that it would require too much math. I am confident that I graduated with people who had not mastered statistics. Like, not just one or two, either. I’d be willing to say that the bottom standard deviation and half of the one above that couldn’t handle them.


      • You don’t’ have to understand the underlying math to know how to use stats or know when smoke is being blown at you. They could take a half a year to go through an updated version of How to Lie with Statistics. I studied a lot of stats in grad school at one point. I could draw the correct conclusions from multiple regression and knew what they meant. The underlying math, well, i would have been less efficient with them. Using stats is a practical skill, that is how it should be taught.


      • Erm, I mean, I would not say that my high school “failed” my co-students by allowing them to graduate without a working knowledge of statistics.

        Would it be *NICE* if everybody in the country had a working knowledge of statistics?


        But I wouldn’t say that a student who didn’t have a working knowledge of statistics had been failed by his high school if he were allowed to graduate without it.

        But if a student graduated without being able to write a five-paragraph essay? I’d say that the high school failed the student.


            • Just about all schools and parents fail their children by not seeing how clearly and objectively correct i am on this. Give me a few minutes and i calculate the odds of people finally getting a clue. It doesn’t look good so far.


              • I’m perfectly willing to run with this but a measurement that has… what? Let’s say a majority… a majority of high school graduates being failed by their schools is calibrated a bit too high to be a useful measure.

                I’d be willing to run with that but “the majority of high schools are failing a majority of their students” is one of those premises that will eventually go to some weird places.

                (It’s also a problem that isn’t really addressed by colleges. While we could debate the extent to which college graduates are being failed by their colleges (seriously! I’d *LOVE* to debate that!), this is a measure that has us seeing that a huge amount (even a majority?) of college graduates being failed by their colleges.)


        • for my part i’m trying to think not about what it should teach, or what it does teach, but what it can achieve for a majority of the students…

          like what standard for a student can (american) public education actually achieve at something nearing full participation (like 80 or 90 percent)? not what is it doing, what is it trying to do, or what SHOULD it do, but what could it realistically accomplish any time soon?

          frankly i’m not sure algebra ii is in there. at least not beyond “teach to the test”.

          meanwhile the common core thinks 4 year olds should be able to produce valid arguments and critique others’ valid arguments….

          To me that’s a pretty big disconnect between reality and aspirations.


        • Well, on my side of the tracks, it actually does provide an education suitable for someone looking forward to at least a bachelor’s degree. (To, like, 90ish percent of the students who graduate high school.)

          I understand that, on the other side of the tracks, it doesn’t provide this.


  4. Before looking at what they should know graduating from high school, lets look at grade school.
    Basic algebra (solve for x, no quadratics), know the basic functions of the body, the branches of gov’t and how a law is passed, read Fahrenheit 451, know where a hammer is located to smash any Alexi they see.

    I think that covers grade school. Junior High is just a containment device for hormones.


  5. Let’s see… Minimums?

    Set up a variety of word problems in a form that can be solved. At least one of them should include an actual solution done using a spreadsheet of moderate size. Something built around a microprocessor (eg, an Arduino).

    600 word essays and/or three minute speeches (at least one of each) on topics in the following areas:
    — an ethics problem in biology
    — something wrong with the US government structure
    — the strength/weakness of a character from a short novel

    Having said that, if I have them for three years at high school age, I’d like them to experience a lot more. One of the things I’d put on that list is production of a two- or three-act play. Doesn’t have to be complicated; the one my English class did in 9th grade was a foolish rom-com set on a cruise ship. But we had a real stage to play with, flats, lights, a place for the prompter, make-up (because we had lights),… The teacher ran the effort, but with a gentle hand. Unforgettable memory from it? The afternoon when two classic jocks, responsible for lighting, settled on how to do moonlight for the second act. They’d adjust the lights and go out front. The supporting actress and I would run through the bit they wanted to see. Then they would argue — loudly — about what was wrong, go adjust the lighting, and make us to it again.


  6. Lower education’s purpose is a place to put kids while the adults are busy adulting, If the kids manage to stay out of trouble, come home in one piece, and learn something than thats an added bonus.

    My more serious answer is that lower education has a myriad of purposes like higher education. For the college bound, the purpose is to prepare teenagers for life in college by giving them knowledge, disciplined studied habits, and the ability to get around campus. For the non-college bound, its to give skills necessary to live in the adult world.


    • I really wish there was a set of standards or benchmarks or something that could be summed up in a layperson-readable paragraph. Is there?

      Common Core reads, to me, like a wishlist cooked up by someone who doesn’t know many 3rd graders and certainly someone who assumes they’re all in safe comfortable and supportive environments at home… (and I say that with a few grad level education courses under my belt, rather than as a naive person who doesn’t understand pedagogy). The stuff it was replacing is mostly even less grounded in reality. Standardized testing is… highly suboptimal.

      I feel like “assessments” are in many cases part of the problem, not part of the answer. (Post by Jon forthcoming later this week on that topic in higher ed, spoiler alert but it may be influencing my thinking since I read things in advance to proof them.)


        • Where decipherable, unrealistic. Often undecipherable-to-the-average-parent. (I read a lot of Victorian novels as a 3-8 year old, I can decipher just about anything – my friends who are parents are not mostly in the same boat.) Fairly often, obfuscatory, in order, imo, to conceal the lack of realism that I think the benchmark designers are aware of on some less-than-100-percent-conscious level, but feel better about when they dress up the language and get extremely extremely detailed.

          But it seems possible there are some standards/benchmarks that are not that, and I would be interested to see them if you know where I should look. Didn’t come across them in my aforementioned grad-level courses though.


          • I think they’re good for teacher training. (and much clearer language than previous iterations I’ve seen, so props to whoever was working on much of it.) thank you for the link.

            but there’s a lot in there that I think is profoundly unrealistic for “kindergarten readiness” standards. (eg “Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” Um. We’re talking 3-4 year olds, right? I am sure there is a way in which that is what they are doing, but it’s not transparent to a layperson *at all* that they are doing that, and it wasn’t backed up by any of the practical examples given later on in that part of the document, from what I saw.)

            but for allowing members of a society to *inclusively* determine whether we’re all on a close-enough page as to what pre-K kids should be able to do? The problem is pretty obvious to me from “start at page 10” of a 62 page document.

            And if we’re going into descriptively detailing mode… that’s where I say “ok, so a lot of that is flat out unrealistic as a goal for *most* pre-K kids in the state of new york.” aspirational, and as teaching tools, I like a lot of it very very much. someday when kids lives are overall less likely to be shitty? sure, I can see that we might get there.

            but 80-85 percent of kids have close to 100 percent completion of these concrete goals by the end of preK, and we could be shooting for getting closer to 100 percent, which is what I think a realistic standard would be? no way. I’d be shocked if it’s 50 percent. Meanwhile, 80-85 percent of books can be cooked to demonstrate what they think is expected of them under a system that states those are the standards for preK education statewide? Yeah, I can believe that is happening.

            And I can also believe that the very very best educational systems in the state are taking already school-ready kids in relatively affluent situations and improving their abilities in pre-K such that the vast majority of them meet the vast majority of those standards or close enough for horseshoes / some slight fudging of the more honorable sort.

            However I don’t think benchmarks / aims of public education should be based on what those parents want / what those educators can achieve, leaving the vast majority of kids in the dust….


              • You remember reading that article that Kolohe linked to, right?

                The graduation rate in the 40s. The *LOW* 40’s. We’re talking about schools that cannot meet “some set of standards or benchmarks or something”.

                I’m trying to wrap my head around that.

                Would you say that “some set of standards or benchmarks or something” would reasonably include my list above?

                Is my list above too exacting and I need to lower my standards of what I consider successful?


                • Are we looking at standards for the schools? Or standards for the students?

                  The standards for the students would be your list.
                  The standards for the school would be, “X% of kids meet the standards,” or something thereabouts.

                  Maybe I’m nitpicking a bit as an educator.


                  • I was coming up with a list of standards for the students that I thought would be a bare minimum of what a school could consider itself successful if it taught its students to do.

                    As for the standard for the school, what do you think would be an appropriate percentage?

                    Personally, I’m thinking somewhere in the 90’s shouldn’t be out of reach for my very bare-bones list. (I argued with Greg, remember, over whether statistical literacy should be included on it.)


                    • Given that, maybe a better way to think of this is:
                      What skills can any random school (system) develop in 90% of its students?

                      If there aren’t any… gulp!

                      ETA: So you say Algebra II stuff. Now imagine the worst performing school in the country. What needs to happen to get that system to 90%? Hell, 75%?


                      • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7s664NsLeFM

                        That said, you need a decent Algebra I background to have a decent shot at doing decently in Algebra II.

                        And to do well in Algebra I, you need… well. I googled it and got this.

                        If you don’t feel like clicking on it, it talks about these:
                        Signed Numbers (Integers)

                        Which takes us all the way back to elementary school.

                        So if you want a high schooler to graduate with mastery of Algebra II?

                        You need a decent elementary school that does a good job with, among other things, fractions and negative numbers.


                        • There’s two primary approaches to curriculum development at the scale you’re discussing: ground up or working backwards.

                          In the former, you say, “Okay… what can we reasonably expect all Kindergarteners to do. Great… let’s assume they enter 1st with that. Now what can we accomplish with all of them in 1st? Great. Now onto 2nd.” Rinse and repeat.

                          In the latter, you say, “The goal is Algebra II (or whatever). So, that means in 11th grade they need this. Which means in 10th they need that.” Rinse and repeat.

                          The former tends to lead to more achievable standards but less lofty ones. The latter sets higher sights but perhaps not achievable ones.

                          You seem to be leaning towards the latter — which certainly ain’t wrong or bad by any stretch — but now you see how you’re scratching your head and thinking, “Can 3rd graders do fractions? Did I? I did, right? Was that 3rd? Mrs. Johnson? I did. So that seems reasonable. But wait, can all 3rd graders? What was 3rd grade again? Kickball? Shit.”


            • Maribou: a note on the standard that’s throwing you.

              “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others” isn’t a pre-k specific standard. It’s one of the common core’s eight standards of mathematical practice that are designed to inform common core math education across all grades.

              ECE wasn’t my area of study when I was pursuing a math credential, but my understanding is that the standards of mathematical practice should be read at an age-appropriate level–that is, what counts as a “viable argument” or “critique” is very different for a kindergartener vs. a high school student.


              • I figured, but my point is that any layperson who sees that is going to be saying “wtf” and not “ok, yeah, my pre-K kid should be able to do that.” And nothing in the (62 page!) document explains why what they’re describing counts as that. Part of my problem with standards in general, as currently applied, and why Kazzy saying “gee, if only we had standards or benchmarks or something” seemed out of whack with what Jay was actually worrying at.


                • As I said, I misunderstood the point of the exercise here. I read it as saying, “Maybe we should figure out what the schools should be doing because they don’t seem to have done as much.” Which I’ll push back against.

                  It seems more to be saying, “The schools have tried to answer this question but in a way that seems flawed on various levels.” I’ll agree with that.

                  Maybe it’s just my style, but if I’m going to examine the purpose of something, I’m going to start with the purpose as it’s stated and/practiced and go from there.


  7. I guess I would look at this from the opposite perspective. How many people do I know making six-figure incomes that are able to do everything on that list. Not many. So what is this all about?


    • Seriously?

      I’m pretty sure that I don’t know any (over the age of 17 or so).

      There are a handful who might have to be reminded of a thing or two… but I honestly don’t know anybody who is incapable of throwing together at *LEAST* a C- for each of those.

      Over the age of 17 or so, that is.


      • I would assume most adults couldn’t do an algebra problem, perhaps they could have passed a course at one time. But if they don’t use algebra in their adult life, what is the point of everyone learning algebra?

        If the point is algebra is a tool to learn numeracy or logic or quantitative reasoning, you can require classes in those things.


  8. Going for the weeds but what if we made high school on how to be a more serene and compassionate person and nuanced person.

    Example: There was a bit of train breakdown on the way home. One particular train was delayed. A passenger complained about waiting 30 minutes.

    What if this was just one of those human errors that seems to occur from time to time?

    Is there a way to teach people how not to get stressed and angry when this occurs assuming it is pure accident?

    What about teaching nuance and moral grayness? That policy is not a unicorn and a pony.


  9. “Things every high school student should be able to do.” O.k, I’ll bite.

    I like your list (OP), but it’s pretty much Reading, Mathing, and a little Sciencing. I’d add:

    Type. Yeah, lots of thumbs are flicking all over the text machines, but we should be damn sure that the most important physical activity in their lives is mastered. Typing.

    Boil an egg. Probably going for simple kitchen skills, but start with the egg. And maybe toast.

    When I graduated high school I did not know how to write a check. (Wait, there’s some kids on my lawn…I’ll be right back…o.k. done). That’s a lost requirement, but just like typing, I want kids these days to have a firm grip on their smart phones (ha! see what I did there?) and the capabilities thereof. I’m sure most of them do, but it’s a vital talent.

    Recognizing televised and online video news vs. entertainment. If it’s four people on a couch and you can see her knees, it’s entertainment. If it’s four people shouting over one another, it’s entertainment. If it bores you to death and you’re dying to change channels and multi-task…You catch my drift.

    Feed, burp, and diaper a baby. If you get in trouble it’s a useful set of skills. Or maybe, just maybe, getting a little exposure would prevent a little trouble.

    How to relate to police officers. Not just “what are my rights?” but also what is the best strategy for the best outcome.

    CPR and first aid. Serious training.

    All this from a liberal arts kind of guy who likes the emphasis on mental development, but high school seems like a perfect time and place for life skills training.

    P.S. What I truly wish is that every 16-year old could spend 6 months working in an emergency room. Impossible, I suppose, but it would change the world.


    • How to relate to police officers.

      Oh boy, that would be a difficult one.

      There are just so many ways that the best strategy for the best outcome will not be the kind of strategies that police officers want to admit that they are. That the best strategy for the best outcome varies by race, gender presentation, religious affiliation, that hosts of people won’t want to admit they do.

      The people who won’t want to admit that their privileged experience of policing is not universal, will include a lot of teachers, principals, parents, and boy howdy will it ever include a lot of school liaison police officers, police union reps, mayors, and chiefs of police.


    • (For the record, I really dug this comment. I agree with it 100%. But I am not sure that, at this point, I’d agree that a 17 year old who doesn’t know how to diaper a baby has been failed by his school. Same for CPR or edutainment recognition or typing.)


  10. Algebra 2 is a clear outlier on your list.

    Students start writing five paragraph essays in Junior High, Animal Farm is texually appropriate for Freshman English, and I’m guessing that reading a scale etc. is a pre-high-school standard.

    By contrast, Algebra 2 is the last math class a lot of HS students take, especially those students who not pursuing higher education. Put Algebra 2 skills on the list and you’re going to wind up in the “most schools are failing most students” rabbit hole you were talking about earlier.

    I propose: “Be able to create and understand equations with variables.” It’s a cornerstone skill of math, something necessary for a huge number of disciplines, and something that (like the five paragraph essay) is something students start to do in junior high but then continue to practice over the course of their education.


    • I know lots of adults who can’t do what’s described and they seem to get along fine.

      They probably learned how to do it at some point and maybe that experience offered them other skills they do employ… but if not, I question the emphasis on those skills.

      Essay writing, too. And literature analysis. I guess I disagree with the entire list.


    • Algebra II was the only math requirement for a lot of majors when I was an undergrad at a Big Ten school. I was dual engineering/math major and had entered with enough AP credit to be a sophomore, so I got a job TA-ing one of the huge classes for all the students who couldn’t test out of it coming in.

      To this day I contend that the fact that a C- in Algebra II was the only math requirement for the Business College is the reason US businesses are so poorly run. The student who in complete seriousness said “X is 2? But it was 4 yesterday…” is now out there somewhere making decisions about inventory or pay roll.


  11. When I was in high school, there were two tracks: college prep and taking over the family (farm/ranch/etc)

    The kids on the farm/ranch track didn’t need/desire the same classes as the college prep kids:

    I can’t speak for the farm/ranch kids much, but they sure as hell didn’t take Algebra 2. Best as I recall it went something like this:

    Farm kids: Algebra, English 1 and 2, World history, Home Ec (for the gals) Maybe IPS (Intro physical science). Then there were classes like Shop and typing. Not a full list but compare to the college track:

    Biology / climatology, physics, Algebra 2, Chemistry 1 and 2, economics, sociology, .various English/writing electives such as “Shakespeare”, spannish 1 and 2.


    • I attended a large high school (about 1,000 in my freshman class) that had several tracks, including a quality vocational program. Very few people would learn differential equations, maybe 50, but there would be two groups, one is the kids that were able to master algebra in 8th grade and were destined for a math-related college degree, and the other were the kids learning to be machinists, who took a sequence of practical math courses.


  12. One of the major difficulties of deciding what Kindergarteners should be doing so that eventually, as 12th graders, they’re ready for the world is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict what the world will demand of them 10, 15, and 20 years down the line. We’ve finally started moving away from preparing them for the world of decades ago and are at least kinda sorta preparing them for the world now… but even that feels silly.

    Maybe I’m way off, but when I see 2nd graders being taught “hard skills” related to 3D printing, I can’t help but wonder if that would have been like teachers 80s kids how the inside of a Xerox machine works. How do we prepare kids for a world we simply can’t envision?

    Maybe the skills we need to focus on are critical thinking, adaptability, problem solving, flexibility, etc. But how the F do you assess for that?


    • I think you hit on the head

      My biggest takeaway from the responses here is “This is the thing that I like and need, so therefor everyone needs.” And that is a recipe for disaster. In my business, I use almost no math. I am not bad at math, I just find it boring and uninteresting. I love reading and art, but many others find those boring and uninteresting. Both they and I shy away from the things that are required but don’t interest us. Perhaps high school should be about forking, allowing us to choose what works for us, what we are good at, while not pushing us toward that which doesn’t work on our level, causing students to push back against the whole formal educational concept. I know I did.

      The point of high school, indeed all learning, is to prepare you. For what we can only guess.


      • Once upon a time (and perhaps still) there was something called the Core Knowledge approach. The idea was for a universal core curriculum for all American school children. It included not just the 3 Rs but also things like knowing who the Beatles were and folk songs. It was controversial, to say the least, in large part because of how culturally specific it was. Why the Beatles and folk songs? What message were we sending to kids and families for whom that knowledge is pretty unimportant? It’s culturally insensitive! But wait… to what extent are folks held back by not knowing that stuff? If you’re walking out of a job interview and someone makes a side joke referencing a bit of “core cultural knowledge” and everyone but you laughs… does that prevent you from getting the job? Eash… maybe?!

        Core Knowledge never really caught on in a major way, though there were some very strong proponents (though it must be noted that someone stood to make money of its adoption to incentives sometimes get a little wonky). But I offer this to show just how complicated it is to answer the question this piece poses.

        You’d actually probably find it fascinating to sit in on some “History of Education” type classes, especially those offered at the graduate level.


      • In line with the Adulting 101 idea though, I think at a minimum kids should learn how to calculate compound interest so that they know what putting stuff on the credit card will mean long term.

        In our local schools the old ‘Home Ec’ is now ‘Family Consumer Science’ and in addition to how to cook basic stuff and use a needle and thread, they do teach that along with budgeting personal/family expenses. Interestingly, my daughter and her friends immediately saw the tie in to what they were covering in civics/govt class in terms of national debt.


        • Bingo.

          Nobody teaches critical thinking anymore. As for some of the other stuff, my parents taught me how to change a tire, sew a button on, cook, chop wood, do laundry, etc. I don’t have a problem with schools doing it.

          Another thing is math. Sure there are calculators to do the work. But a calculator doesn’t tell you if your inputs are wrong. An understanding of the formula will. Remember that time I pulled out my HP 10c and calculated the monthly pmt amount of a car I wanted to buy? Intimidated the hell out of the car salesman.


  13. One thing that seems to keep coming up in these discussions is a variant of “Adulting 101”.

    The ability to write a check. The ability to prepare an egg for breakfast or turn a pound of hamburger/box of Hamburger Helper into a meal for 4. The ability to budget. The ability to sort lights from darks and know which settings on the washer are appropriate for jeans and which for chenille.

    Sure. I agree with all of that. I’m not sure that, using that standard, we’d say that I was well-served by my schooling. (While I did learn some of this stuff by age 17, it was at the agency of Mother Bird rather than by the agency of the school. And experience is the only thing that will teach anybody about chenille.)


      • When it comes to whether or not we’re saying that a high school failed it’s students, yeah.

        I mean, if my parents taught me how to do complex fractions, it’d be weird to say that my school did right by me.


          • Lower lower class: Day Care
            Middle lower class: Day Care, maybe a few students will be able to aspire to Upper Lower class
            Upper lower class: get a diploma and a job

            Lower middle class: get a diploma and a steady job (if you’re lucky, a union job)
            Middle middle class: college prep
            Upper middle class: college prep

            Lower upper class: college prep, networking
            Middle upper class: college prep, networking
            Upper upper class: Networking


            • I’m not sure if you are being sincere or snarky but this actually gets at some very real issues.

              What’s worse for those bottom rung kids: ONLY giving them Egg Cooking 101 or forcing them through AP Calc?

              Ideally we could control for the rungs and identify which kids benefit most from Egg Cooking 101 and which benefit most from AP Calc.

              And a pony.

              ETA: I may have to stop talking soon though because I’m worried I’m close to running afoul of the key liberal talking points in this area and I need to get some bananas later today.


                • I’d be shocked if anyone here thought that was the preferable to, well, anything.

                  I asked that question not because I presume to know the answer or as any kind of gotcha, but to demonstrate that trying to standardize education, as appealing as that idea may be on so many levels, is not only practically difficult but also ethically problematic.


            • Someone should tell poor people they send their children to school primarily for day care. My experience is that a lot of them don’t know that, they think their children very much need education.


              • Someone should tell poor people they send their children to school primarily for day care.

                Why? Do you think poor people too stupid to figure this out for themselves? That’s classist greg. :)


              • School is also a day care for middle class or wealthy people. Some of the most elite schools are the biggest day care centers of them all. Parents who send their kids to elite boarding schools are outsourcing most of their parenting to the schools.


                • Well yeah of course the kids would be working on the farm or in the stables with the dad if they weren’t at school. But it’s easier to have them go to school for that free gubmint day care.


                  • I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear enough but I wasn’t being sarcastic. School does have a day care function in addition to a educational function and a social function. This is true for nearly everybody.


                    • The care part is secondary to the education role. They have to care for the kids because the kids are with them getting their education.

                      It’s been a long time since both parents worked at home, a very long time. Even when one parent worked at home schools still developed where the kids went to learn. It’s not like schools only started when both parents started to leave the home for work.


                      • As you think more contemplatively about Jaybird’s question, greg, the day care/indoctrination answer will seep deeper into your soul. And as it does criticisms of how well our education system achieves its *secondary* functions will attain new clarity. For example, the signaling value attached to particular schools diplomas.


                      • There is an extent to which education comes secondary to care. There is research that shows that school start times are suboptimal but changing them would misalign the school day from the work day in ways that would be very challenging to many working families.

                        Though, there are also financial factors at play, especially for districts with bussing. Busses are often shared between schools to cut costs, meaning start times have to be staggered. High schools tend to start the earliest even though they are likely most in need of a later start. High school kid brains are weird.

                        Some of this is just so baked into the model though. Most people don’t think about how the school day is aligned with the work day in a particular way but would nonetheless find it strange if school started at 10am.

                        And, as I’ve said elsewhere, for some kids school is where they get 1 or 2 of their meals, shelter, care, etc. in a way that may not be consistent outside of school.

                        Rather than disparage the care function that school provides, perhaps we should be embracing it.


                        • I agree with all that. Schools often do important care functions especially in poor neighborhoods. That is important for the function of education and it makes sense that schools do that. Schools are often critical community institutions, they should be treasured for that. I’ve always found the school=day care thing weak though.


    • I like the notion of “Adulting 101” for high school age. And I would differentiate that from “Cultural Knowledge 101,” in many ways. Food prep, first aid, budgeting seem as if they would be at least somewhat universal in nature, whereas a lot of history, criticism, creation, mathematics would be something of a separate track and more adaptable. I would include algebra up to the level of figuring out price vs. value at the supermarket in this category. And I am probably taking “being comfortable with reading” (whatever that might mean) as granted.

      Maybe I’m looking at high school as something of a pre-emptive “safety net,” where it takes some time in school to ensure some common core of practical knowledge for all kids. (Idealism Alert!)

      And then lots of other time for Jane Austen, Ben Franklin, Gandhi, Newton, etc. My memories of high school (granted, as a big-time under-acheiver) are that time to do both wouldn’t be hard to come up with. I’m guessing 25% for Adulting 101 vs 75% for whatever else? Maybe?


      • It strikes me that much of “Adulting 101” could be offered as a crash course.

        I’m thinking of it the way I’m thinking of the way we teach money to kids. For whatever reason, we often start teaching kids money in 1st grade or even Kindergarten. And, best I can understand it, we do this in part because teaching money requires learning to count by 5s and 10s and simple addition or subtraction and beginning to explore whole/part relationships (which is necessary for understanding fractions) and all that jazz. So we use money to teach what are probably age-appropriate skills. But I question how age appropriate the money part is. Sit down with most 5-year-olds and they’re driven batty by homework that asks them to identify drawings (!!!) of quarters and pennies and dimes. Like, for weeks or months at a time! And I strongly suspect that if we scrapped money from the K/1 curriculum and put it into the, I dunno, 4th grade curriculum, you could bang it out in the afternoon. And probably be no worse off and likely better off because of the gains you’d make from revamping K/1.

        I guess what I’m getting at is we could probably be doing a better job of identifying the optimal times to teach certain skills.


        • My daughter’s school is super heavily project based.

          One month-long project they do every year is have the kids run businesses – developing the product, sounding out what the demand is likely to be like, at older ages developing a whole business proposal and budgets and whatnot (without which the bank doesn’t advance them the business loan). Making test versions of the products, production runs, etc. Advertising. Making sure the booth is manned at all times during business hours. Making change, tracking sales, checking the float, figuring out exchange rates between different classrooms’ funny-money. All the group dynamic work that goes with running a business together.

          The unquestioned capitalism bit is a bit out of sync with other values of the school, but the project, and the need to do things with money, really does let them exercise a whole bunch of different skills.


      • Home Ec and shop used to be something of Adulting 101 even though they were heavily gendered in many high schools. The idea was to give many students a decent grounding in cooking and maintenance work. My high school got rid of their home ec rooms shortly after I graduated because of a lack of interest in home ec by many students. Home ec and shop seemed to have fallen out of fashion because they seemed beyond redemption in how gendered and old fashioned they were. In upper middle class districts, it was assumed everybody would only want academic subjects and in less well off districts that they needed academic subjects to catch up.

        I guess one of the paradoxes of a lot of modern education is that it seems heavily geared towards the upper middle class or making sure kids can reach the upper middle class. This is despite the fact that not everybody can be upper middle class by definition. The practical and vocational courses that used to be common are seen as something for losers and these days losers are left to flounder for not having the drive to excel.


  14. I think it’s worth considering that there are elective classes, and while you don’t have to have the skills from any specific elective class, you should have the skills from some elective class.

    So, for example, no particular second language is inherently better than another, but the general skills one gets from dealing with and learning some modicum of a second language are important.

    Likewise arts programs – you may have gone to drama and I may have gone to sculpture and she may have gone to band, but we all got what comes of striving for improvement in an expressive endeavour.

    Likewise sciences – whether you did the forming and testing of hypotheses in the realm of chemistry, biology, or physics, you should have the experience of doing so, and the attendant understanding of how the scientific process goes.

    Oh and working successfully in a group. Oh my gosh, just the process of dividing tasks and doing the things you’ve committed to others that you will do and communicating timely if you’re not going to be able to meet those commitments and resolving conflicts should they arise in a way that you can all talk to one another civilly later. I don’t care what the group project is.


  15. Everyone needs the basics.

    Basic English. Basic Math. Basic “how the gov works” Gov.

    Basic History, including the big horrific crimes of history from which we should learn, i.e. both the Nazis and the Socialists.

    Basic Econ (Supply/Demand… enough to be a politician or at least vote for one).

    Basic “This is a (dis)functional relationship”.

    Basic Computers (“how to look stuff up on the internet” and how to use “Word/Excel”).

    Basic Finance “This is a loan, this is why pay-day loans are bad, this is an interest rate, this is a con-man, this is what you can expect to earn in this job”.

    That’s 8 subjects and it’s “this is how to function as an adult”. Some of those (Econ, History, Gov) I have in there just so you don’t vote for crazy policies which make the country go off the rails.

    I’d love to put physics/bio in there but they hit the radar as more than a minimum. Taking out a loan you can’t possibly pay back is more of a life changing event than not knowing the theory of gravity. Ditto being in a dysfunctional relationship.


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