What We Should Teach

What We Don't Teach

I would like to concur on this. One of the most striking parts of my childhood was when the school district closed the school wood shop and then a couple years later closed the district's only metal shop.

It struck me as incredibly in-egalitarian and short sighted. These were the only two classes that could reliably draw students from lower income brackets to school for the day. And many of them would spend time after school working on cars and building things with the shop instructor. It was also one of the few classes where students would actually willingly work math problems or look to improve their techniques. I don't have data, but based on the people I knew in the classes, I would bet the majority slipped back into sub-mediocrity after the program closed.

In the case of the school district, the reasoning they gave was:

  1. Computer skills were becoming more valuable and the shop programs were expensive. Better to teach the kids how to use Microsoft Word than a welding machine.
  2. The shop classes were dangerous (reading between the lines: they were afraid someone would inevitably end up burning themselves or cutting themselves and the district would be subject to a lawsuit and bad press)
  3. The newer schools in the district had been built without such classes and it wasn't fair that some students had the option for shop classes and others didn't
  4. Class sizes were small and it wasn't scale-able given the wait-list for the courses.
  5. While courses in digital arts would be relevant in the future, courses in car repair wouldn't.
  6. The district wanted to focus more on special education programs and needed the money (special education in this case refers to more than just children in need of special assistance, really, they wanted more test prep courses for the students who were failing the standardized exams and making them look bad).

Most of these arguments still strike me as utter bogus (literally, they argued they should kill the classes because they were popular), but that was the reasoning given. There's probably an extension of these arguments to gun ranges (or, if you're in NY, the state has essentially banned parts of archery in a crusade to ban after school gun shooting sports)

I will also note that modern kids chemistry sets rarely go beyond baking soda and vinegar anymore. No more small uranium samples (obviously dangerous), homemade explosives (you'll blow your eyes out!) or caustic acid experiments. These were all common in children's science kits decades ago.

If I had to try and give a single short guess as to what's happening: I'll lean on Haidt's argument that we've made a society that is, if anything, too safe and too afraid. We've also got an educational establishment that doesn't respect hard skills anymore and it filters down to the primary schools.

In the case of the educational establishment, it's probably just a closed system getting captured by self-interest. If the administrators never had to learn to fix a car, why should any of the students? It's all about university anyway. And heaven forbid the kids learn to shoot animals and survive the wilderness, that would be just immoral and impractical in 2019.