The Problem With Required High School Classes

The Washington Post has an op-ed piece by a guy asking why his son is required to take chemistry. He goes through the normal arguments you hear and debunks them:

  • We need to produce scientists and other nerds for the good of the economy. Sure, but forcing a kid who hates science to balance equations is just going to make him hate it more.
  • Kids need a general education that includes things they don’t like. Yeah, but a whole year of it, during which you learn the electron configuration of atoms (Lithium’s is 1s2 2s1) is overkill.
  • The skills they learn apply to other areas of life. Of course, but there are other subjects that will teach the same skills that have the benefit of being of interest to the kid.
  • They don’t get a choice in school because that’s how life is. Or maybe life is like that because, as kids, we’re indoctrinated with not having choices.

Warren Buffet


He also mentions the opportunity cost of required classes: because we were forced to take chemistry instead of economics, most of us know that air is composed of nitrogen and oxygen but have no idea what an opportunity cost is. This, despite the fact that 99% of us will never need to know about the composition of air, but we all deal with money every day. Whenever we forego doing one thing in favor of another thing, we lose the opportunity to do that first thing. If you took another job instead of the one you have, maybe you’d have gotten a promotion and would now be making more money — that’s the opportunity cost. Same goes if you bought a different car that broke down less often, or painted and sold a portrait instead of going to the movies. And the same applies to high school: by requiring classes that are useless to the student, it may actually hurt their education. It gained nothing for Warren Buffet to take chemistry, but learning economics made him a billionaire.

The same author has another very interesting article on even more disruptive education reform: that of not forcing all children to learn in the same way, at the same rate. If you have a kid with ADHD, it’s definitely worth a read.

See also:

From The Washington Post, via Slashdot

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