We Need to Teach So that Kids Will Care

Someone I respect says we shouldn’t teach kids stuff they don’t care about.

It sounds appealing. On some level this seems to make sense.

It is also patently absurd.

We have to teach kids things they don’t care about for all kinds of reasons.

The first reason is because we don’t have to teach them the things they do care about. They learn those things with or without us.

Dinosaur Exhibition Beijing

You know this if you have spent any time at all with boys between the ages of three and six and wondered how they know all they know about dinosaurs. You know this if you have ever talked to a teenager about their music.

We have to teach kids things they don’t care about so that they will care about things they don’t know about yet. Like genocides, or famines, or global warming.

Or how to use a chain saw.

Man using a chainsaw with all recommended safe...

I wish someone had taught me how to use a chainsaw. I didn’t care about it when I lived in Manhattan, it wasn’t important then. I could really use that knowledge now that I have a backyard with trees down in it.

As I see it, the question is not whether we should or should not teach kids things they don’t care about. The question is what it is that they don’t care about that we do need to teach them about.

This is not really something anyone I know can determine. I know I can’t.

I have problems just dividing knowledge into those things we academics call subjects. I have a very hard time figuring out where math ends and science begins, how people can think that what we call social studies doesn’t overlap them both and that it is all blanketed by English.

Kowledge is holisitc. It is all one giant fuzzy rapidly expanding blob with no beginning, no end, no edges at all. It cannot be created and cannot be destroyed; it can only be uncovered or revealed. And it is our job to reveal it, as much of it as we can.

I don’t think it matters much what order we teach things. Jerome Bruner says anything can be taught to anyone at any time. The only thing that changes is the level of complexity. He contends that anything can be, should be, retaught repeatedly at increasing levels of complexity.

I just know that it is absolutely essential that we teach kids one very, very important thing, something we all know but don’t focus on. We need them to know it and to focus on it, to make it the driving force in their life.

The other side of the globe.

We have to teach kids that the world has not always been the way it is now and it will not always be the way it is.

We have to teach them that they have the power to change the ways things are.

And we have to remember that so do we.

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3 Responses to We Need to Teach So that Kids Will Care

  1. Alan Newland says:

    Nice post – and agree with the view of epistimology that knowledge is a revelation.

  2. Deven,
    Why must an adult impose upon a child what they should care about? We all care about different things. We can expose young people to a variety of different topics and let them choose for themselves what to care about and when.

    Why should we force someone to learn something you think they should care about if they don’t care or are not ready to learn? Do you really think learning about a chainsaw 20 years before you needed to know how to use it would be effective? I believe individuals should be given the freedom to learn and care about topics that make sense for them.

    I know it is cliche at this point, but in the 21st century learning can be “just in time” rather than “just in case.”

    Oh, and if you want to learn to use a chainsaw, there are thousands of videos to choose from on YouTube. You can start with this one http://youtu.be/fou893qVvxQ

    • Deven Black says:

      I’m not saying we should impose on children what they should care about, I’m saying that if we don’t expose them to the world beyond their insular lives they will not have the opportunity to care about things that might, it could turn out, matter to them.

      Just in time learning is wonderful assuming you know the right questions to ask and what rock to look under. Learning something takes knowing something and learning things just in time is no exception. I agree it would do little good for me to learn about chainsaws 20 years before I need to use one, but I suspect that had someone exposed me to the sorts of things chainsaws (or other powerful tools) are used for when I was more nimble and less wary I might have found uses for them that might have been beneficial to me or someone else.

      As I am sure you know, I am no big fan of predetermined curricula; I believe in asking a question and following all the directions potential answers might lead, including venturing off on tangents that seem interesting. How else would one discover that knowledge is one big thing instead of a lot of little things that may or may not be connected. My education, the part I did and continue to do outside of school as well as some of what I did in school, allowed me to follow whatever meandering path I wandered onto and, as a result, I discovered the joy of learning long before I was subjected to the drudgery of learning. I wish all students could have the same opportunity I did. but I also wish that they all would be as prepared with as much prior knowledge and trust in their abilities as I had when I wandered off the curriculum path.

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