Teach the Why

It’s so quietly become the norm that you may have missed it. But it’s a real and profound shift. Instead of teaching kids through reading, today schools teach reading skills. Instead of teaching math as a tool to use in your actual life, schools teach math concepts—ideally math concepts that are easy to measure on tests. 

For really smart or curious kids, this is not really a problem. They’re able to translate these skills into their lives. But many kids struggle. Because they’re bored. Because they don’t see the point. Because they lack the knowledge and context necessary to even understand how to learn these skills. 

A 2019 piece in The Atlantic tells of a study that measured kids’ reading ability when it came to a short piece of writing about baseball. It turned out that kids who liked and understood the game of baseball were able to read better and comprehend more than kids who didn’t. Context, it turned out, was king. Even the kids who struggled to read were able to read above their level if they were actually interested in what they were reading about—if they could get their bearings inside it. So, the writer concludes, “what if the best way to boost reading comprehension is not to drill kids on discrete skills but to teach them, as early as possible, the very things we’ve marginalized—including history, science, and other content that could build the knowledge and vocabulary they need to understand both written texts and the world around them?”

It’s obvious, but unfortunately not common. Which is why as parents, we must adjust. Instead of drilling your kids on historical dates, take them somewhere where they can understand that history is a thing that actually happened, that has an actual physical footprint. Don’t pester them about their homework, do math with them as you pay bills, or calculate the tip on the dinner check, or work on a project in the garage. Show them the why and the how, because they are more important than any what. Skills matter of course, but there’s always a reason we are trying to attain them. That reason is the context necessary for comprehension. Depriving your kid of that context is not just silly—it’s cruel. It forces them to try to learn in a vacuum. It dehumanizes them. It turns education into a chore. 

Learning isn’t a chore. There is a reason for it! And that reason is so you can use it in your life. 

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