Notes From My Knapsack 4-24-14
What should a graduate know?
Let's start with one basic assumption.
There will never be complete agreement on a list such as what I propose here, nor do I expect to (more on that at the end).
I've posted and published reading lists before, both for college for general knowledge. They can start the most interesting discussions, and also arguments, or discussions that turn into arguments. And I'm sure folks have come to school board meetings with lists in hand, asking for curriculum redesign based on their sense of a sort of list of what's to them non-negotiable.
What I have in mind is more of a "knowing list." And not facts or figures per se (Avogadro's number, Pi to fifteen digits, how far is the Earth from the Sun, when was the Battle of Gettysburg), but certain competencies.
There's a TV ad that shows a very young woman struggling to change a tire in an empty parking lot, and at the end, her dad steps into the frame saying "See, you can do it." That's a good example right there: being able to change a tire. I'd add change the oil, but nowadays, maybe I should settle just for how to add oil.
What else do I think a high school graduate needs to know? How to introduce strangers to each other. A basic skill, that like a parachute you may not use much, but when you need it, it's best to have it on hand. Which fork to use is not so crucial, but how to make a toast, that's necessary. They should know to defrost and roast a frozen turkey, and how to make a roux, plus a few steps from there (breaking eggs one-handed is optional). How to buy in bulk, and store it once you have. How to sharpen knives, how to swing an axe, how to re-wire a lamp or switch. They should know, from excavation up, how a house is built, whether they ever own one or not.
Math: what I would like to see graduates know is how to read a budget, a profit/loss statement, and be able to make sense of five years' worth of financial reports whether of a retail operation or a non-profit. They should be able to format a spreadsheet on a computer, balance accounts on paper, calculate costs for a business operation using invoices and timesheets.
Somewhere between numbers and entertainment is the knowing of how people can use statistics to lie to you. Proportion and median, visual means and numerical measures, weasel words and basic definitions.
They should know, if not how to spell Korzybski, why it is that "the map is not the territory." With William Least Heat-Moon, they should have a sense of what a "deep map" is if not the nature of a PrairyErth itself.
I'd want them to know as many of Shakespeare's 37 plays as possible, some of his 154 sonnets; Isaiah, the twelve minor prophets, and Luke's gospel. They should at minimum know something of the blues, of jazz, and of bluegrass. The Upanishads and Rumi, and at least one language not of their birth. They should know what mass is, in both the Catholic and Newtonian senses.
For those keeping score at home, there's no way this is a curriculum, and that's my point. This is not a list for teachers or administrators, either. It's for parents. For them to edit, to augment, to consider.
What I want my son to know by the time of his maturity into the world on his own? 'Tis my responsibility. School is grand and glorious, but they can't do it all, and shouldn't try . . . or be expected to try. At home, we hope to make sure our child knows certain things. And it's at home that he will learn most of them.