Don’t waste their time. Teach them something!

Mar 21, 2016 by

Here’s my favorite story of educational nitwittery. Told that first graders should learn the names of the oceans and continents, a gaggle of principals and superintendents objected: Why would children need to know that informat???
My mind runs in the opposite direction. What don’t they need to know? What couldn’t we teach them, with just a little effort and ingenuity?
I say: just about anything you can teach to ordinary, middle-IQ adults, you can teach to a first-grader.
What follows is a quick inventory of the many kinds of knowledge that you can teach to young children. Ideally, the same topics would be visited again and again, next month and next grade, with greater detail on each pass.
Completeness is not the point. Let’s say a family visits a famous war monument. Typically, the parents would mention a few details. They shouldn’t try to teach the history of the war. The goal is to plant seeds, to start conversations.
House Rules: Teaching something is better than teaching nothing. Starting anywhere is better than not starting.
Note: copy above is the intro to, and philosophy behind, an article on my site ( called “Smart content makes kids smarter.” To show how this  concept might work in elementary school, the article continues with many specifics. Here are a few examples:
LEVEL I: Get Them Thinking
1. DIAGRAMS AND SIMPLE MAPS. A diagram of the classroom, a map of the school grounds — conceptually they are the same. The concept of scale–let’s say you have a diagram where 1” equals 1’–is easy to grasp if you can see and measure the distances.
2:  GAMES AND RULES. Point out that football, basketball, and baseball are played on a precisely laid out fields or courts; and each sport has its rules. Consider that even simple games like tic-tac-toe, checkers, Bingo, dominoes or Go Fish have their rules. Explore the concept of structure and of working creatively within rules. On another occasion, you can segue to street signs and traffic lights: highways work only because people are all observing the same rules.
3.  RIDDLES AND PUZZLES. One plus two equals what?–we call that a problem. A riddle or a puzzle adds extra dimension: there’s something hidden that makes the simple seem complex. For example, the Riddle of the Sphinx: what walks on four legs as a child, two legs as an adult, and three legs in old age? Find simple riddles, puzzles, and mazes to pull kids into the pleasure of solving a mystery. Also, there are knock-knock jokes, where the second question (“Sam and Janet who?”) poses a riddle of sorts.
4. GEARS AND CLOCKS. Everyone is in awe of the tiny parts inside a watch. Compare those tiny parts to the big gears in, for example, a winch; and point out that it’s all the same thing: ways of moving energy around. The spring, for example, is stored energy, like a battery. A clock has the special function of “keeping time,” which it does by ticking in a steady, regular way, day after day.
5. DICE AND PROBABILITY. The nice thing about a single die in that there are only six sides and six numbers. You can make a chart that shows absolutely that each number has a one-in-six chance of coming up on top. Maybe a year or two later, you can tackle two dice where you have many more possibilities. One interesting phenomenon is that two sixes and two ones are very rare combinations, whereas sevens are common. You can show all of these things on a chart. [And much more….}
And now the dark heart of the matter. Everywhere in K-12 education, the Education Establishment comes up with bogus alibis for not teaching very much. In other words, they want children sitting around all day doing busy work, empty-headed, not learning much new knowledge. That’s what Constructivism is intended to justify. What a depressing thought – all these children with their brains permanently in first gear.
Far, far better if a knowledgeable teacher leads children down new paths they would never find on their own. If you are such a teacher, please visit this article and use what you like.
Bruce Deitrick Price’s education site is (His four new novels are presented on his literary site


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