Things I’m not teaching


Suddenly, so many traditional school subjects look totally insane to me. Here is a list.

Language Arts.
Kids learn languages themselves if you just put them among a bunch of kids that speak the language. The only reason we don’t do that is because classrooms are like antiquated, face-time-oriented  9-to-5 jobs where if you are not there you don’t count. So people can’t put their kids among kids who speak another language.

There is Spellchecker. I know, because I’m a terrible speller. The words like you’re/your and two/too are words you pick up if you read. Words like corollary (I needed Spellchecker for that) are words that if you misspell in a handwritten note, people will excuse the misspelling. So all that time you could spend learning to spell, you could just spend reading. Also, to learn to type you learn to spell. And kids should learn to type before they learn to write a sentence.

This is actually fine to teach – for art class. I bought calligraphy pens for my son. Many kids with Asperger’s love to write by hand, so I thought he’d love calligraphy. I imagined him have a signature worthy of the US Constitution. It turned out that I was right about loving lettering, but not the cursive. He took my Jelly Roll pens and wrote block letters. Fine. No cursive for him, and it’s still artistic.

If the kid is on the Internet all the time, the kid is already a world citizen. Anyone who makes a friend with someone in another time zone will want to have a sense of where they live. They will look on a map. The terrible geography of US students comes from being stuck in a classroom, overly focused on US history and US current events, instead of out in the world, reading International web sites, meeting people and traveling. Normal curiosity can lead to a knowledge of geography tantamount to a year’s worth of the topic in high school.

Home Economics.
There is a resurgence of home economics classes that mirror the trend that men take care of kids at home more and also, homesteading and eating local are hip, so homemaking follows, in the hipster category. The thing is that if your kid is home all day, the kid can make lunch for everyone, tend the garden, and do the things that actually need to get done at home instead of making up assignments at school.

21 replies
  1. Amy Lynn Andrews
    Amy Lynn Andrews says:

    Agreed. Reading pretty much takes care of most “subjects” as I see it. We go to the library weekly, I (mostly randomly because I’m lazy) pull books from all sections (non-fiction, fiction, biography, etc.) and simply leave these books strewn around the house and car. My kiddos naturally pick them up and read; it’s hard not to when the cover is new and somewhat intriguing. We have two dedicated shelves for library books. We consistently have between 50-100 checked out at a time. Some get read, some don’t and some get read and read and read.

    Oh! And DVDs…man, there are some sweet DVDs available at the library.

    As for geography, I’ve killed two birds with one stone on this one. I bought a HUGE wall map from Ikea and use it as the main decor in our living room. Then I bought 3 Pottery-Barn-Knock-Off clocks and set them to different time zones just like you see in newsrooms on TV.

    Just about everyone who comes over comments on that map. It’s a great conversation starter, whether our living room is full of guests or just our family. (Of course, we’re hoping Ikea comes out with a new and revised map since South Sudan should now be indicated as its own country. More learning in that discussion of course…)

    Done thoughtfully, life is learning.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Amy Lynn, I love how you talk about tactics. I like hearing the tidbits of what your life looks like, how you plow through the library. I feel so unsure of myself. Like, I go to the library and think: This is a bonanza, so why would I need a school? And then I think: No, this must be wrong. Because no one else thinks like this.

      So hearing you describe what you do – it’s really helpful.


      • Amy Lynn Andrews
        Amy Lynn Andrews says:

        Thank you, that is very encouraging. Seriously. But me? I’m thinking something very similar about you! Your pioneering/entrepreneurial attitude is such an asset (and I need to get me more of that). You have a gutsy quality about you I totally admire. I completely get what you describe about swinging between “this is awesome” and “this can’t be right otherwise everyone else would be doing it.”

        I am your typical first-born “rules” girl, always compliant, always quick to meet the expectations of those around me. Man, I worked my hiney off my entire life doing what I thought I was supposed to do. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but after finishing college, I felt like an inmate being released from prison after spending most of his life there. Like, he dreams about the day when he’ll have freedom and can do what he wants, then finally the day arrives. They hand him his small envelope of belongings and shove him out the gate. There he stands on the street looking around, thinking, “So what in the world do I do now? Where do I go?” Lost. That’s me. I feel lost and unsure so much of the time. And then I’m mad at myself for feeling that way because sheesh, how pathetic is that? I just need to quit belly-achin’ and get on with it already.

        It took me a while but I eventually found work I love. Of course, it has absolutely nothing to do with my degree and it took me forever to figure it out. And I wonder, if I was unschooled/homeschooled as a kid and was allowed to pursue my own, genuine interests from a young age, where would I be today? How much further along would I be? Like, would I be saving the world by now (ha!)? Whereas, because I took such a circuitous route doing what I was “supposed” to do, I only *really* started my God-intended journey when I was well into my 30’s. Who knows.

        So you know how they say parenting is so much about you trying to work out your own childhood issues through your kids, right? OK, so I’m probably guilty. :)

        But still, objectively, there’s something to be said about homeschooling/unschooling. Abraham Lincoln, Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Agatha Christie, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin—worked for them! Right now, I’m going with it. :)

  2. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I completely agree that many traditional school subjects are outdated, but the question I can’t get over is what should children be taught instead, and how? Should homeschooling be used as a way to teach more relevant subjects that kids show genuine interest it, but where parents are still guiding the questions and the ideas? Or should learning be totally child directed with parents helping to find the various means to reach the child chosen ends?

    Here is another question that I am currently fascinated with….through a link in one of your posts, I ended up at the Sudbury Valley School homepage. On that page, there is a video about the school. One boy on the video, who attended Sudbury for 4 years (presumably the traditional high school years) talks about his experiences. During the first year there, he says (with zero shame) that he played video games every day–for one full year. I can’t get over that, mostly because I can’t figure out how I feel about it. On the one hand, I have what is probably the standard reaction and am outraged that his parents paid a year of tuition so he could “waste” the year away. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if that year is the kind of indulgence we should afford young people, and we would if we weren’t so scared that we would “ruin” them. Will that year provide that boy with a sort of insulation from some of the traditional burn-out problems so many people have? Will he feel less constrained by what he “should” do and instead have the confidence to do what feels right? And if that year does these things for him, doesn’t that totally change our thinking in the best way to prepare kids to be adults? Really, the more I read, the more I have questions rather than answers.

    • Amy Lynn Andrews
      Amy Lynn Andrews says:

      I hear ya, Jennifer. About the video. I had the same internal battle about the year of video games. But then I thought, well, at least he got it out of his system! I’m reminded of my friend who severely limited video games for her son all through high school (because playing video games wasn’t a “good” thing to do).

      But once he got to college, she feared he was going to spend most of his time playing video games on his friend’s gaming system down the hall in the dorm. On their dime of course.

      I’m generally of the opinion that deprivation leads to excess. For most people anyway.

      So, on one level, maybe it wasn’t such a “waste” because perhaps later in life, the guy in the video will have a “been there, done that” attitude toward video games and move on to something else? If I remember correctly, by the time he left high school, he did land on something (neurology?) he wanted to pursue into adulthood. So, it almost seemed like his video game year was simply a stop along his journey. He camped out a while there for sure, but for the most part, it seemed like it just helped him narrow down what he really loved.

      Then again, maybe I’m totally off my rocker. (THAT’S completely possible.)

      The thing about the guy in the video though, was that it seemed like he was just as intensely involved in something totally different the next year (music I think). But I noted that somehow that was more acceptable to me. I’m hard-pressed to see the rationality in my thinking on that other than at some point someone said video games are a waste and music isn’t. But *why* is it a waste? Because no one makes a living playing video games? That’s not really true. There are plenty of reputable video gaming companies. And I’m thinking of the iPhone app my 5-year old plays for fun (and has taught him the placement and name of all 50 states in the process). Someone had to build that app. I suspect the person who did probably has spent a fair amount of time playing video games and learning how they work.

      Anyway, I’m totally rambling. All this to say, I get what you’re sayin’. And I wish I wasn’t so flip-floppy about it all. Logic tells me one thing but my experience and the voices of “the powers that be” (whoever they are) tell me something different. I feel like the rope in a tug-of-war.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      There is TONS of research about how beneficial video games are for learning. And I”m not talking about educational video games.

      Google education video games. Add first-person-shooter to the search. Really. Even those are incredibly educational.

      Because video games teach:

      Sophisticated problem solving

      A new language (yes, video games have a visual and verbal language that you need to learn over years in order to master the game)

      Team building and cooperative problem solving (something the pre-video-game generation of baby boomers is notoriously terrible at, by the way)

      Goal-oriented planning. (My kids plan for weeks to be ready for the day of a given Pokemon’s arrival – in the game – so they can get him).

      Reading. Both my kids learned to read so they could read the Pokemon guides without asking for help with big words.

      I’m sure the list is longer. This is just to start. But also, when researcher looked at why it is that girls get much better grades in college but boys to much better at work, one of the conclusions was that boys play video games throughout college and it teaches them to complete, to build teams, to have goals, all the stuff you need at work that you don’t learn in school.


      • Zellie
        Zellie says:

        I think my teenage son plays video games too much, but when I hear him talk about something new or use vocabulary and ask him if he learned it at school and he always answers which video game he learned it from. I swear he’s learned more through games than from school.

  3. Karen
    Karen says:

    I only thing on your list that I disagree with is cursive, but not for educational reasons. It’s about manners and the lost art of the thank-you note. Twice in my life I have been offered positions for which I was not the most qualified candidate on paper. Both times I was specifically told that I was chosen because of the handwritten note sent to my interviewer thanking them for their time and reiterating my interest in working for their company. The simple act of writing and sending it told them a lot about my character and my attention to details that others missed. It certainly helped that I have fantastic penmanship. Both my boys practice their cursive for 20 minutes daily. They don’t like it, but it won’t kill them.

    • Natasha
      Natasha says:

      The point is to write a note by hand – it doesn’t have to be cursive. Are you less thankful because you print instead?

  4. redrock
    redrock says:

    definition of geography (even on wikipedia) is not simply knowing where the countries and oceans lie:
    “Geography (from Greek γεωγραφία – geographia, lit. “earth describe-write”[1]) is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of Earth.[2]” It is – gulp – actually a lot of physics. And yes, kids should learn it. Spelling with a spellchecker can go horribly wrong: complimentary and complementary are both recognized as correct, but have rather different meanings. SO no, not useless, but indeed probably easily picked up with lost of reading. Kids learn languages fast, but they also forget them fast. And they do not learn the structure of a language and miss out on many of the complexities because language in daily life is usually minimal language in terms of number of words used and complexity of sentences. To really learn a language requires lots of reading and some study or awareness of the grammar. HOme economics… don’t kids learn that one at home?

  5. Gwen Nicodemus
    Gwen Nicodemus says:

    Geography is more than knowing where the countries are; however, knowing where the countries are is what we Americans suck at. So, whenever I teach a class, I utilize a globe or a map whenever I can. I just did a class on the American Revolution, for instance, and I made a point of showing the kids how that tiny little island thought it should rule over the eastern part of our continent and they didn’t even have Internet and phone service so they had to wait forever for boats and letters. When we listen to NPR and a country is mentioned in a story that the kids are interested in, I make it a point to get out the globe or map when we get home. Well, actually, the map is on the wall.

    Hm, I’m thinking I should put the map in the bathroom opposite the toilet.

    This is a teaching tool for the middle east. The first time I played this, I got about five countries right. Within a half hour, I could do the countries alphabetical, from z to a, at random, from the left to the right, or from the right to the left.

    So, whilst geography is more than mapping, I have it focus on the mapping. We do the plate tectonics and geology and stuff like that in Science.

  6. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    The only reason I taught my kids cursive is so that they could read notes from a boss or grandparent. And now my youngest probably won’t even have a boss because he’s on his way to being self employed.

  7. Latha
    Latha says:

    My son loves the Top Secret adventures – a great tool for global travel from our couch. He likes some activities in those kits and not others. I do the stuff he doesn’t like because he needs the clues to solve the mystery. And usually he tends to follow up with more and more questions about the country, their geography, their culture, history etc.We also travel quite a bit so it is a fun way of exploring the countries we travel to or are interested in.

    And video games. I am not fond of them myself (to play) but do not limit his play at all. They are great for strategy, project planning, time management, persistence, vocabulary, hand eye coordination etc. I don’t decide if the game is age appropriate but focus on my son’s sensitivities and interests. At this point, he likes adventure based games than war based games. He also built a number of video games on Cartoon Network’s Game Creator. At six, he would methodically plot his game on paper and strategize to find ways to make the games more and more challenging. The games he built were top rated by the users for months. Now he is no longer interested in using that software but wants to learn to create his own games using programming language. But he wants to build his own characters and themes and so he has been working on a storyboard. Last Halloween, he made his own costume based on his character. He fences and does Taekwando with college students. He is the youngest and the only one of his age (many school-going kids cannot stay up that late) and the discussion of these games actually help him bridge the age gap with those who are ten, twelve years older than him.

    But the danger is that parents need to be engaged with the children’s pursuits regardless of the nature. I view my role as a facilitator, resource provider, cheer leader, and connector of dots. Otherwise, these activities will also be like the traditional subjects in schools, fractured pieces that do not move towards building a holistic understanding of the pieces.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      You have a great perspective, Latha. I love your description of your role. It seems right to me that parents need to be engaged in the children’s pursuits. But, for me, I think I would have to have a very clear vision of what that engagement would look like for to be effective. For example, with the Top Secret Adventures do you let your son lead the direction of the country discussions, or do you encourage him to gather information beyond what he would have normally done if left to his own devices? I think the balance between facilitator and lecturer would be so hard for me.

      • Latha
        Latha says:

        Thanks, Jennifer. I am a college professor by profession and so get the tendency to lecture:) With my son, I don’t lecture. I stop when I sense that he has had enough (for the moment). But what I find is that he almost always gets back to it another time, not necessarily to pursue more about that particular country but perhaps make connections with something else that he is interested in.

        Let me give you an example, we ran into a book about Bermuda Triangle. He was naturally curious with the mystery of it etc. but then when I started to lecture about its geographic location and potential causes etc. he kind of lost interest. But a few weeks later, we saw a Scooby Doo movie which referenced Bermuda Triangle. Now, he made the connection and then drew a map of the location, titled it with the movie title, Scooby Doo and Pirates Ahoy. Does this kind of referencing always happen on his own? Not always. But that is why my engagement is helpful, because I tend to remind him of those connections.

        I hope this somewhat answers your question. In a nutshell, my tendency is to lecture but I have learned to curb it but answer the questions he asks and wait for more to emerge. If in the meanwhile, there is something I find interesting about the topic that we were discussing, I would point it out to him.

  8. Kuben Naidoo
    Kuben Naidoo says:

    I have stumbled upon your blog (no idea how) – but anyway, love every articles. I am considering getting my daughter out of school to pursue a photography business. She is in grade 9. Most of the subjects, in South Africa we call them Learning Areas, are purely academic. This bores the living daylights out of kids who are creative. We also wanted to have our own farm and get our kids learning and working on it. YOU ARE LIVING THE DREAM! Thanks again.

  9. Will King
    Will King says:

    Really – teaching these subjects as subjects themselves may not be the solution – For example, spelling – I’ve picked up more spelling and vocabulary from my time as a voracious reader as a young teen than I ever did from school. I would argue that though it doesn’t need to be taught as a subject, its importance is more paramount today than before – So much of our communication goes out over the internet in the form of the written word – you’re judged on what people see, and if you’re not able to tell the difference between correctly spelled words with different meanings, you run the risk of losing your audience.
    Cursive? Amen sister – I learned it until I no longer had to use it and have never looked back!
    Geography? Again, something that should be learned, but can easily be incorporated into other subjects – History, for example – geography makes such a huge impact on history (and culture and current events) that you can’t really teach one without gaining knowledge of the other!
    Home Ec? This falls into the life skills category – you’re gonna teach those whether or not you want to, in school, where you warehouse your kids, the odds are that this would be the only place where they are exposed to this subject – at home? You live it!
    The beauty of homeschooling is that you wind up incorporating these subjects in a far more holistic manner – whether or not they’re formally part of the curriculum!

  10. Pamela Price
    Pamela Price says:

    Agreed! Except for us the cursive actually appears to be faster for him than printing since he’s inclined to start at the bottom of the letters rather than the top. I’m not pushing, though. He’s already mastered printing, albeit in his own way. (It’s legible, so I’m not complaining. He’s only 5 after all.)

  11. Heather
    Heather says:

    “Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
    Oscar Wilde

    “In the end, the secret to learning is so simple: Think only about whatever you love. Follow it, do it, dream about it…and it will hit you: learning was there all the time, happening by itself.”
    Grace Llewellyn

    “Our aim in education is to give a full life. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking – the strain would be too great – but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest.”
    Charlotte Mason

  12. Cherri Porter
    Cherri Porter says:

    I think so many of the skills you talk of on your blogs as necessary for success in life and the workplace are part of good “home economics” instruction. Maybe thinking of it as home econ is part of the problem, as understanding balancing budgets and where food comes from and eating in a nurturing way and healthy interpersonal relationships are all things necessary to a quality life and all things that fell under the domain of home econ as I knew it. I also learned to type and sew and work with wood and metal–all under the guise of home econ–and those are some of the most useful things I learned in middle school.

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