What Kids Need To Learn in School to Become Their Best Adult Selves

One night I dreamed a dream.

I was in a college classroom, it felt like a religion class but it might have been history. The room had individual desks, the kind with the metal framed chairs and the small desktops that curve around your seat.

The teacher was an older lady, who had developed some very creative ways of remembering information, which she deemed important. She wanted to ensure that her students could recall specific topics or events in order to explain them to others who may inquire about them. Her solution was to create new words or phrases to help her students.

These words and phrases were not acronyms or mnemonics. Crazy as it may sound, the teacher described them as the way someone might say a word if they were to mispronounce it. Of course, the teacher’s made up words didn’t actually sound like anything. Even in my sleep, I thought this was crazy.

I have no ability to recall the topics or events the teacher thought were so important. What I do recall, is taking the teacher’s test and finding the questions she asked confusing and irrelevant. Here is an example of how the test questions were phrased – “If someone asks you about HOMGOM, what might they be referring to and how would you respond to them?”

Intentional Living Classroom 2

In total there were 15 questions on her exam. For the first seven or eight, my subconscious mind was able to quickly find a reasonable response. It wasn’t until I moved on to the second half of the test that I came across the questions with the made-up words.

As I skipped one question after another, having no clue how to possibly answer them, I became increasingly frustrated and angry. Of course, the test was timed, and I could hear the clock ticking down as my time ran out. Tick. Tick. Tick.

My mind drew a complete blank as I tried to answer these questions. Rather than forcing myself to craft a creative yet completely wrong response, I simply left these questions empty. Sweat began to form on my brow. My heart raced with the anticipation of failing the test. I prayed that the time would be extended until I could return to the questions I had skipped.

But, the time ran out. The teacher told us all to put down our pencils. Then to my horror, she asked that we all exchange our tests with someone else in the classroom so that we could perform peer grading right away. When another student approached me, I reluctantly handed over my exam and took his.

The teacher provided the appropriate response for each question, and we were asked to mark our partner’s response as either correct or incorrect. When she reached the second half of the test and began providing the responses to her made-up-word questions, the answers didn’t make any sense to me.

The words the teacher had created didn’t actually sound like any of the responses she was giving. The entire exercise was impossible to follow and I couldn’t believe I was being tested on it. I also couldn’t believe that something so ridiculous would be affecting my grade and thus my transcript.

I raised my hand to protest the silliness of the questions and beg for an explanation as to how these items could possibly be helpful in real life. The teacher’s response was both shocking and infuriating.

She responded that she had talked about these “word plays” in class and that if I hadn’t been paying attention that was my fault. Again I protested that even if I had known the answers, the information was made up and completely useless.

In a very condescending tone, the teacher told me that her responsibility was to develop the curriculum and my responsibility was to memorize it. If I couldn’t do that, then I would fail.

Intentional Living Classroom

At this point, I began to shout. For those who know me in real life, I’m a fairly subdued person, and there are few people who have ever seen me raise my voice. However, for some reason, I find myself shouting in my dreams quite frequently; usually as a stance against unfairness or in defense of the defenseless. It’s not uncommon to find myself fighting tyranny in my sleep.

It was at this point in my dream when I began to gain some level of actual consciousness. In the real world, it was about five in the morning, and I found myself lying in bed unable to sleep. Despite my best efforts to fight it off, my mind continued to return to my dream. I was trying to process what had happened.

Despite the obvious fact that my experience was just a dream and had not actually occurred, I couldn’t help but feel strong emotions about it. I was angry. It made me feel as though I was trapped in an existence where I had no real control over the outcome of my life. It made me feel as though I was wasting years of my life in an educational system that wanted me to memorize useless information, rather than learn life-changing skills.

As I lay in my bed, stewing over something that hadn’t really happened to me, I began to realize why I was so upset by it. While the dream was just something I’d experienced in my head, the wasted time in a classroom, memorizing useless information, was all too real. The dream was a representation of my actual educational experience.

Aside from some very technical classes in college, I rarely learned something I could take into the real world. It seemed that teachers were more intent on making their class either difficult or enjoyable, rather than educating and preparing their students for life.

How much of my life had I spent in school, memorizing exactly what the teacher wanted me to memorize, so that I could regurgitate it on the next exam?

Without intending to, I began to formulate a manifesto of what school should actually accomplish, rather than what it is accomplishing today. Around 5:20, I found that I could no longer lie in bed trying to sleep, so I awoke and went to write down my thoughts.

What I came up with in the early twilight of that morning, was a simple phrase followed by multiple bullet points. This is in no way a complete list, but I believe that it gets at the heart of what education should provide and where education is falling short today.

Here’s the phrase – An education should help students develop… I honestly believe that students should be the ones who are ultimately responsible for their education, as they are the only ones who can actually learn something. Teachers, parents, and administrators can only invite students to learn and help guide them in their journey. Our primary focus should be to help students go down a path of learning that will prepare them for their lives as adults, rather than preparing them for an entrance or exit exam.

I hope that you find my education manifesto helpful, if for nothing more than getting you thinking about what is important to you when it comes to your children’s education.

Keep reading to see the full manifesto.

Intentional Living School Library

An education should help students develop…

Moral Judgement

Morality does not have to be correlated with or tied to religion. In this context, what I mean by moral judgment is simply developing a standard of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do.

This involves seeing other people as people, having empathy, and avoiding selfishness. Another way to look at moral judgment is becoming a good citizen, becoming someone who does not steal from or abuse others, and becoming someone who is just and honest in their dealings with others.

As far as I have seen, the current public school curriculum does not even broach the subject of moral thinking.

Courage

Courage is taking action in accordance with your moral judgment, and being willing to do something because you believe it is the right thing to do. Courage means doing something even if it is frightening.

Teaching our children courage is important because they will be faced with situations that scare them and they’ll need strength to make the right decision. It takes courage to act on your moral judgment. It takes courage to do what is right even when everyone else is doing something that is wrong.

It will take courage for kids to break the mold, be themselves, and live the life they envision for themselves.

Self-Worth

Self-worth is something that schools are not only failing to develop in students but are actually eliminating altogether. How could a child possibly develop self-worth in a situation where they have very limited autonomy, are educated the same as everyone other student, and are constantly compared to their peers.

Self-worth is inherent. All people have worth because they are human beings. One of my favorite quotes comes from my three-year-old daughter, who I overheard while she was playing – “Everyone is my family. Everyone is my friend.”

It’s so simple, but it’s true. If we can look at ourselves and others as individuals, who are inherently worthy, then we will all begin to feel a deeper sense of self-worth.

I believe we can help foster the development of worth in our children by allowing them to be themselves, to make as many of their own choices as possible, and to make their own mistakes. I believe that it will require individualized education, which may not be possible as part of the modern school system, but can be accomplished by a loving parent or teacher.

Critical Thinking and Analytical Skills

Going back to my dream, which sparked this whole educational manifesto, I was extremely frustrated by the fact that my teacher was requiring students to memorize useless information rather than developing valuable skills. The skills I feel are most needed in today’s world are critical thinking and analysis.

The world is evolving at an exponential rate and keeping up with every bit of new information is literally impossible. I’d also argue that keeping pace with all available information is unnecessary. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t continue to learn throughout our lives, and for some vocations, ongoing education is absolutely required. But what is vastly more important is to be able to think critically, effectively analyze, and solve problems.

Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying, “Never memorize something that you can look up.” The ability to look something up has never been greater. We carry this ability with us in our pockets and on our wrists. We have access to nearly all of the world’s information.

Schools don’t need to force feed students information, they need to teach them how to determine the best methods for using that information.

A Love for Learning

Learning is as natural as breathing. For kids, everything is learning – play, eating, bath time.  Have you ever asked a two-year-old to stop pushing things off the counter? If so, then you know it’s almost impossible for them to stop.

Why? Because they are learning something new and it’s incredibly fascinating to them. They have to find out if the book or sock will fall again. It worked one time, will it work again? For kids, learning is so much fun that they literally can’t stop doing it.

That is until we begin to coerce them into learning. As soon as learning becomes a requirement rather than a natural occurrence, children begin to dislike learning. Education designed for the masses will never foster a love for learning in kids.

Why? It’s simple. Learning should follow curiosity. Curiosity is the foundation of all learning. Curiosity is the desire to know something.

So how do we help kids develop a love for learning? We get out of their way and let them take charge of their own education. We let them focus on the things they are interested in. We stop forcing them to learn the same thing at the same time as everyone else. Eventually, they will move from subject to subject as new things peek their interest.

Allowing curiosity to lead learning is the surest way to ensure our children hold on to the love of learning with which they were born.

An Understanding of How to Learn

Everyone learns in a different way. Some people learn best by reading about a subject, some people learn best by listening to someone describe a subject, and some people learn best by watching someone perform a subject.

Again, this goes back to individualization. Children need to learn which method of learning works best for them. This cannot be accomplished in a school system where all children are required to learn the same things in the same manner.

How do We Ensure our Children Get this Education?

This manifesto came to me as the result of a dream and a 5:00 am meditation session, which means that it is certainly not exhaustive. It also means that it is not entirely prescriptive. I don’t intend to tell you how to best educate your children, and I’m definitely not trying to explain how the education system should be changed as a whole.

What I do believe is that our kids need to develop the skills and attributes listed in my educational manifesto. While many would have you believe that it is the primary responsibility of communities and governments to ensure children receive a proper education, I will make a stand and say that parents and families are the actual gatekeepers.

Families are the basic units of society and the primary place for education to occur. I would encourage all parents to develop their own educational manifesto, or borrow mine, to ensure their children receive the opportunity for learning they need and deserve.

I hope this was helpful. If so, please like the post and leave a comment below. Thanks!

 


Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.

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