Kristi Munno wrote an excellent article called “Do I really have to learn that? Why curriculum needs an intervention” (ETA 10/2013: her blog has since been delete, so I removed the link here.) She talks of how her fourth grade daughter hates learning topics and skills that she views as outdated. Kristi writes:
As a parent, I told her that yes she had to learn it, and yes she would use it. But I knew deep down that most of the stuff she was learning at this age would never be used again once she became an adult. I write for a living, and I never think about complete subjects and predicates. In fact, unless you’re a fourth-grade teacher, I don’t think anyone ever thinks of complete subjects and predicates. As for converting fractions to decimals, I can see where it may come in handy, but most people would just pull out a calculator to figure it out…
…And the cursive? I understand that she needs to know how to sign her name, but if you really think about it, that’s all the cursive she needs to know. Once she gets into junior high and high school—and eventually, the working world—she’s going to have to type everything. I think the cursive training should be replaced with a keyboard.
The experience of Kristi and her daughter is being repeated in homes all over the country. This is something we need to be discussing, and I agree that we need to re-evaluate curriculum to decide what’s really relevant and important in the 21st century.
But. When I really thought about what she wrote, I realized everything her daughter had to practice is something that I would justify keeping in the curriculum. Here’s what I shared in a comment on her blog explaining why:
- Subjects and predicates are helpful to know when learning other languages. They’re also useful to me in my everyday life. I, too, do professional writing and editing, and I think that understanding the basics of sentence composition (including subjects and predicates) IS a big part of what I do. Knowing the technical terms makes it easier to communicate (“Take a look at this, there’s a split predicate, would it sound better if we change the words around?”) and also helps me fix mistakes (I know to Google ‘split predicate’ if I have a question about usage.) Will every child be a professional writer/editor one day? No. But should we limit them from having the necessary skills to communicate well in any format or profession they choose?
- Kids who don’t know cursive don’t know how to sign their names–a hugely important life skill. They also can’t read other people’s signatures and notes. Cursive writing appears fairly often in popular culture (ever watch a movie which zooms in on a hand-written note, or seen an ad that uses cursive to imitate handwriting for part of the text?) It’s not the most critical skill for kids (typing is far more important) but it’s still useful to know how to at least read cursive writing and sign your name.
- As far as converting fractions to decimals? Not an everyday skill for me, for sure. But I’m glad I understand what fractions and decimals are and what they mean; this knowledge helps me understand infographics and data I read in news articles. Because I recall the basic process of conversion, I can look critically at numbers in research and determine whether or not they make sense or if there’s been an error.
I guess my thought is this: Isn’t it nice to know something and NOT have to Google it? It makes you feel smart and well-educated to already have basic knowledge and not have to pull out a phone and look things up in the middle of a conversation or project. We don’t want to take away basic skills from our kids simply because they’re not used every single day in adult life. Knowing these admittedly rather boring things helps us make sense of bigger concepts and analyze the information around us in a more educated, critical way.
Rather than remove these things from the curriculum, why not teach them with 21st century tools and integrate 21st century skills in the instruction? Why not have kids collaborate, create, and problem solve while learning things like subjects and predicates? There are innovative, inspiring ways for kids to learn otherwise dry or tedious skills. Personally, I think we need to take a closer look at updating the teaching methods and tools, and not throw the baby out with the bath water.
So, what’s YOUR take? What skills and concepts in your curriculum are outdated and unnecessary for kids to learn? Do cursive, grammar, and fractions and other “boring” concepts still have a place in school? And if so, what can we do to make them relevant and meaningful for kids?