Someone I respect says we shouldn’t teach kids stuff they don’t care about.
It sounds appealing. On some level this seems to make sense.
It is also patently absurd.
We have to teach kids things they don’t care about for all kinds of reasons.
The first reason is because we don’t have to teach them the things they do care about. They learn those things with or without us.
You know this if you have spent any time at all with boys between the ages of three and six and wondered how they know all they know about dinosaurs. You know this if you have ever talked to a teenager about their music.
We have to teach kids things they don’t care about so that they will care about things they don’t know about yet. Like genocides, or famines, or global warming.
Or how to use a chain saw.
I wish someone had taught me how to use a chainsaw. I didn’t care about it when I lived in Manhattan, it wasn’t important then. I could really use that knowledge now that I have a backyard with trees down in it.
As I see it, the question is not whether we should or should not teach kids things they don’t care about. The question is what it is that they don’t care about that we do need to teach them about.
This is not really something anyone I know can determine. I know I can’t.
I have problems just dividing knowledge into those things we academics call subjects. I have a very hard time figuring out where math ends and science begins, how people can think that what we call social studies doesn’t overlap them both and that it is all blanketed by English.
Kowledge is holisitc. It is all one giant fuzzy rapidly expanding blob with no beginning, no end, no edges at all. It cannot be created and cannot be destroyed; it can only be uncovered or revealed. And it is our job to reveal it, as much of it as we can.
I don’t think it matters much what order we teach things. Jerome Bruner says anything can be taught to anyone at any time. The only thing that changes is the level of complexity. He contends that anything can be, should be, retaught repeatedly at increasing levels of complexity.
I just know that it is absolutely essential that we teach kids one very, very important thing, something we all know but don’t focus on. We need them to know it and to focus on it, to make it the driving force in their life.
We have to teach kids that the world has not always been the way it is now and it will not always be the way it is.
We have to teach them that they have the power to change the ways things are.
And we have to remember that so do we.