What We Should Be Teaching Our Kids That Isn’t Found in Heavy Bookbags

There is no doubt that children today are being overworked and over-scheduled—but do the Czinkota brothers have a good point about what education should be?

WE just concluded the fall school vacation. Between us two brothers, we have three children, 6, 7, and 10, with whom we spent the week in conversation, playing and thinking.

Here are some of the issues that we considered, but are not sure that we solved:

Are children overworked?

Over time growing societal surpluses have made it possible to enjoy the fruits of our labors. We no longer learn only because we have to, but because we want to and we can focus on learning about history and enjoyment of art, music and poetry, about beauty.

Even though the need for learning has changed, the process and conditions of learning have not been altered to provide for a more relaxed childhood.

Kids are increasingly over-scheduled little beasts of burden with more work of greater complexity carried in ever heavier knapsacks on wheels.

The available knowledge has increased greatly.

Yet, our children keep on learning the way their parents did. Are we perhaps maintaining an outdated approach, applying it to vastly increased quantities of content with a greatly diminished half-life ?

Memory outdated?

Could it be that all we are doing is cramming our children’s brains with more useless stuff?

We exert pressure on our children so that they learn.

Just as high pressure can transform coal into diamonds, perhaps our children grow more talented. We punish them for not doing sufficient work. Boredom is no excuse. Of course, shouldn’t we ask why the same child is not getting bored by TV shows, discussions with friends, or playing with dolls?

In a pharmacological society, many kids are given prescription pills to cure what once was seen as typical (highly active) child behavior. We have even seen children who have their own personal assistant charged with keeping them focused.

But there are also procedural learning questions: Why do children still memorize?

Memorization had its origins when there was no print, no dictionaries, and therefore no institutional retention. Priests and monks had to memorize in order to pass on society’s knowledge—they were the living word.

Today, we have Google, we have Bing, we have Wikipedia; all systems that remember things for us. Of course, it is said that by subscribing to Wikipedia we are buying into the hidden agenda of secretive editors.

Well, why not? For centuries we’ve bought into the hidden agendas of the secretive editors of the Oxford Dictionary. Even the monks and scribes who laboriously produced manuscripts, added or eliminated details. So the flexibility and adjustment of materials has a long tradition.

Alternatives

How much knowledge does a child realistically need?

Will (or should) the acquired knowledge ever be useful for anything?

Does it make sense to dispense knowledge in a shotgun approach (we give you everything and hope some of it helps)?

There is always a great reluctance to move away from existing patterns. There used to be a firm conviction that only the slide rule would maintain the algebraic memories of children.

After our vacation together, we ask ourselves whether it isn’t much more important to spend time with our children to play more, listen to and perform more music, exercise in more sports, engage in more theater productions?

We need to explain to them the things they need to know—for

example about morals, values, a sense of excitement and pleasure; about the facts of life, that prices are typically not the result of costs but of demand and supply; about friendship, and the enjoyment and benefits of new people networks.

With such knowledge our children might not be able to avoid a global trade and financial crisis, but at least they will understand it and react to it.

(With Thomas A. Czinkota)

Originally Published in the Shanghai Daily: November 2, 2009