School has always been out of touch. Parents shouldn’t mimic that.

I love the Onion so much. A recent article headline is Cool Dad Raising Daughter On Media That Will Put Her Entirely Out Of Touch With Her Generation, and there’s an accompanying photo of a dad fawning over his Talking Heads album. 

The Onion drives home to me how self-centered and ridiculous it is for us to teach the next generation what we think is important. We are not talking about passing down the idea of how to make fire and how to use a wheel. We are talking minutia.

School teaches kids whatever the textbook industry is serving up. Or, worse yet, whatever the federal guidelines tell the teachers to teach. Which necessarily means that the curriculum is a generation behind. Of course we cannot get a textbook that includes Sky Does Minecraft. Printing takes too long. Sky will have his own children by the time some Pearson executive finds Sky’s YouTube channel.

So at any given time in history, school is totally out of touch with what the current generation cares about. But as information processing gets faster and faster, this gap gets wider and wider.

What blows me away is how parents are recreating this problem at home, when it’s totally unnecessary. The Bureau of Labor estimates that the top ten jobs of 2030 don’t exist now. Which means of course you have no idea what to teach your kids. So why not let them pick what they learn since it’s likely that what the kids find interesting is going to be what’s relevant to the job market in 2030, since the job market will be creating goods to sell to the kids.

It’s selfish of parents to think that what interests them is what their kids need to learn. It is no coincidence that farmers spend 50% of their time teaching biology and math professors spend their time telling their kids how math is in everything. Former cheerleaders help their kids have more fun during the day. Former music prodigies help their kids practice every day. (And forced curriculum at home only serves to exacerbate this problem.)

It’s fine to skew your parenting to your own background. What else can you do? But once you start placing a higher value on your cultural experience rather than that of the current generation, that’s when you start looking like an Onion parody of the self-involved, culturally deaf parent.

12 replies
  1. mbl
    mbl says:

    Truly stellar.

    The Bureau of Labor estimates that the top ten jobs of 2030 don’t exist now. Which means of course you have no idea what to teach your kids. So why not let them pick what they learn since it’s likely that what the kids find interesting is going to be what’s relevant to the job market in 2030, since the job market will be creating goods to sell to the kids.

    • mbl
      mbl says:

      Just read the Onion link. Love it.
      Two things, I strongly suggest Mr. Campbell include R.E.M. as a follow up to Big Star. Murmur just had its 30th anniversary. Groundbreaking.
      Also, I suggest he reconsider Adam Lambert. I think Adam will prove to be timeless given his talent and range. It would be a nice way for Mr. Campbell to acquiesce to Emma’s popular culture request, while being true to his quality standards. Much like his daughter’s name.

  2. Marc
    Marc says:

    What’s the difference between force feeding your kids Talking Heads albums and religion? Aren’t you simply trying to build intergenerational shared values and experiences?

    Why do you teach your son Hebrew instead of Portuguese?

  3. JT
    JT says:

    I’ve introduced my daughters to the TV shows of the 60s and 70s and they love them. No harm has come to them.

    • mh
      mh says:

      JT — love it.

      My kids enjoy old-school electric company shows. Morgan Freeman and Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, Letterman…. My kids are way past the Sesame Street/learning phonics age, but the shows are so entertaining.

      I value nostalgia — I have plenty of old Fisher-Price little people toys from the 70’s. My kids enjoyed them a lot — right up until they discovered LEGOs. But when children come over, they always want to play with the Fisher Price farm or the yellow house, the village and the parking garage.

      I’m with you — life’s too short to deprive ourselves of enjoyment.

  4. Amy
    Amy says:

    I had a sudden realization. It would be very interesting to see you take on a Tiger Mom. “The” Tiger Mom’s kids are half Jewish but when it comes to forced curriculum at home her kids are very Chinese. Now that would be an interesting debate/match up to watch.

  5. Jana @ The Summer House
    Jana @ The Summer House says:

    My brother, a public school teacher, started giving his kids 80/20 time like Google does. The kids have to come up with projects, present them to another group to get approved (Investors) and then execute their project. It’s genius. And the rest of the time it’s all about state standards. He would like to do things differently but his hands are tied.

  6. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    It’s interesting to me that I was having a similar conversation with my son the other day and came to completely different conclusions.

    As we drove to his fencing class, we talked about how many adults today did jobs that didn’t exist when I was his age. My whole career was in fields and with tools that didn’t exist when I was his age. Many of today’s children, and perhaps he, will have jobs that don’t exist now.

    And yet the music we were listening to on the radio, which I listened to also as a child, was hundreds of years old and still spoke to us. When my son is grown up, and has his own children, this music (in this case, Haydn’s Symphony no. 92) will be little older and speak to us no less.

    This fact is one of the reasons that study of music is such a good use of a child’s time. It will not be superseded or replaced by new technology. Fads come and go, things like clothing are inherently ephemeral, technology advances, but the classics are here to stay.

    It’s true that classical music is a minority endeavor. It always has been and always will be. But it’s not going away in my lifetime, my son’s lifetime, or those of his eventual children. It will always be there for us.

    The same holds true for classics in literature. They survive because they are good, and they will continue to be good despite the advance of technology in other realms. Don Quixote will be just as funny to his children as it is to him. Lord of the Rings will be just as thrilling.

    The classics are not a waste of time for me or for him. They’re part of our lives, and will be part of his children’s lives. The march of technology will not change that.

    One of the great advantages of homeschooling is that your child (and you) need not be subject to the idiotic fads of mass youth culture. Avoid television commercials and the peer pressure and groupthink of schools, and you won’t have to buy the newest plastic gewgaw from China or the latest saggy misfitting clothing because some other kids imagine they’re cool. You can pay attention to things on a longer time scale.

    Whatever infatuation a child came home from school with today will be in a junk box in his parents’ attic ten years from now. Avoid mass culture and make your junk boxes smaller while making your lives greater. Instead of buying toys that will be abandoned, develop skills the adult can always use.

    My boy may well end up in a career we can’t even name yet. I had a profitable career in a technical field that hadn’t been imagined when I was a child. Teaching him everything about my work might be pointless. But no matter what he ends up doing in his day job, it will always be a good skill to play music, and love for literature will always provide him with amusement and companionship.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Well said, Commenter.

      It’s another reason why I teach my kids to garden and cook meals for the family — these are worthwhile pursuits that will serve them in life.

      We take our kids to visit older people — shut ins and nursing homes (and great-grandparents). Sometimes we bring checkers, or sometimes we just visit. And it’s so interesting to hear their stories of growing up, or when they bring out some opbject or photograph from their youth.

      Times do change; human nature does not change. I homeschool partly to teach my kids to appreciate their time.

  7. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    In another of your posts: you link to an article in the New York Magazine about high school that has this quotation:
    “Something happens when children spend so much time apart from adult company. They start to generate a culture with independent values and priorities.”

    It’s ironic to think that pulling kids out of school for self-directed learning may actually stabilize culture more rather than less.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah, that’s a great observation. Thanks. Also, I love that you quote New York magazine articles back to me! I love that magazine so much.


  8. Laura
    Laura says:

    What’s really interesting to hear is when my 14 year old tells his younger brother, “Hey, dude, you don’t know how lucky you are, they didn’t even HAVE iPhones, Twitter, etc. when I was your age!”
    Of course, then he turns around and tells me, “You don’t even know what it’s like to be a teenager now. They didn’t even HAVE Facebook/Instagram when you were my age.”

    Fun times as a GenX parent.

Comments are closed.