The fact that there are so many memes about this shows how widespread the problem is.
“Another day without using the Pythagorean theorem,” reads one. Another jokes about a kid wanting to learn how to balance their finances who is instead taught “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder. Another has a totally unprepared adult repeating the one thing they learned in school: “Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.”
Maybe you remember your own bafflement as a kid, bored out of your mind in classes where your only thought was: when am I ever going to use this?! Then there was the Spartan king Agesilaus who was once asked, almost 2500 years ago now, what children should be taught, to which he replied, “What they will also use when they become men.”
Normally there is some solace to be taken from problems that have a timeless quality to them. It means our struggle isn’t unique. We aren’t singularly deficient or incapable. It’s kind of a relief. Except this can’t be one of those times, because in our failure—and how badly we have failed at this!—we are letting down not just our kids, but the future too.
And why? Because we’re busy. Because we have somehow been conditioned to just go along with the curriculum. Also, because it’s easy. Teaching to a test—measuring trivia, memorization, and facts—is much less complicated than teaching to mastery. To understanding. To wisdom. To ethics and problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
These things are harder, sure, but that’s because they actually matter. And if our kids’ teacher can’t or won’t do it, because the system isn’t set up for them to be able to, then it’s up to us.
There is one reason to learn, there is but one purpose to education, and it is not to memorize the state capitals alphabetically. It’s to become a capable person of good character. That’s what we have to be teaching them. That’s what we have to monitor. That’s what we have to model.