The idea of learning for the sake of learning comes from the Renaissance. It’s the first time in history that people celebrated the idea of sitting around reading secular material, purely for the joy of learning new ideas.
Later, the idea of being well-rounded was not so much for the sake of learning, but rather to establish oneself in a particular social class. To be well-rounded you had to be rich enough not only to skirt any work duties, but also to hire French tutors and piano tutors and all the other tutors that provide the parts of a well-rounded education.
The modern-day classroom was built as a result of the Industrial Revolution, not to create Renaissance men. Our classrooms were designed to create factory workers. Kids sit in rows, answer to bells, and learn to fit in. Today, we reject the idea of sending our kids to school to become factory workers, but school is still school so we justify it by saying it develops well-rounded kids. And, the argument goes, if we make poor kids well-rounded then we create opportunities for class mobility.
This is completely false thinking; school curricula does not create class mobility. Self-directed learning creates class mobility.
But the other problem is that there’s no set curricula for what well-rounded should be.
For example, are you well-rounded by learning Yiddish? Are you well-rounded if you don’t know the capitals of US states? Are you well-rounded if you can’t draw?
I am thinking about my own set curricula for my kids. I’m always on the lookout for what I think they should know. Theoretically I have a lot more leeway than most parents because I force few things on them. So when I say, “This is really important,” they listen.
Well, they listen to see if it’s interesting.
I am anxious about the damage porn does, especially to boys. It’s clear they will find porn. And it’s clear that it’s normal for a boy to look for it. But it’s also clear that boys are getting a totally unrealistic view of what sex is.
I always knew I’d spend a lot of time talking about sex in my house. I want the discussion to be open. I thought I’d be talking about how women’s bodies are not dirty and menstruation is not unclean. But I guess those are issues only for old-timer thinking.
What we really need to talk about is the difference between a real girl and a girl in a porn video. My sons have pretty much no idea. There is no warning on the video that says: Your girlfriend will be nothing like this!
And there are no YouTube channels devoted to how much emotional energy goes into a real relationship where you care about the person you are having sex with. So I am adapting.
I spent so much time organizing my bookshelves so the boys could only reach the books that were appropriate for their height. But I see that was wishful thinking. Before they are even tall enough to reach Portnoy’s Complaint I find myself explaining how one-night stands are a lot easier than long-term relationships, but are a lot less fulfilling as well. “It’s like playing an easy song on the cello,” I say. “You don’t have to work very hard but you don’t feel very good about it afterward either.”
The difference, I think, between self-directed learning and curriculum is that curriculum is what grows from a spark the parent catches from the child and wants to fan, by hand, to draw more attention to it.
Curriculum is probably what comes up at the dinner table. It’s dynamic and specific to the learner. Curriculum is discussing whether a brokered convention is democratic. It’s talking about whether we can grow organic sweet corn if none of us wants to weed by hand. And it’s talking about how most girls who give blow jobs do not want you to squirt cum all over her. It’s all curriculum: preparing kids to carefully consider the world they want to be a part of.