Skippy wrote some of this thoughts on what amounts to No Child Left Behind - our public schools’ proclivity for teaching to the standards set by the government for testing, and not teaching to practical life skills.

I have two thoughts on this topic:

Thought one:
In India, students (as many who are in physical proximity to their schools) are instructed in about 6th grade to decide on their future career, thus educational path. They are taught a minimum of what they need to know to move on to specialized areas of study. When they begin their lessons in their field of choice, they learn nothing outside of that field. For this reason, they excell in their areas of expertise, but can’t answer cross-vocational questions.

A prime example of this behavior was in one of the Indian software development contractors I worked with very briefly (before he ran off from his employer without a green card). He was a decent programmer, but he had to be instructed explicitly what to do. He was unable to make intuitive leaps in his functional coding because the matter of the project was completely outside of his scope of knowledge. My experience with this one contractor has been my general experience with off-shore contracting in India, where their affectation for specifications seems admirable at first, but then you come to realize that without that explicit and thorough direction, they can make no judgement of their own.

You might think waiting for input from the employer to be a virtue at first, but in an organization that stops working entirely when they can’t make an intuitive guess of what their employer might want - to be sorted out later - the half-planet time delay becomes a significant factor. “You did not work today because you could not take a guess as to what we would like for a UI and decided to wait for our input?” Yeah, no.

Without a well-rounded education, like that which American universities provide, schools that provide career directed or core-proficiency directed instruction will result in less proficient workers.

Thought two:
In fifth grade I was selected to participate in a special class for gifted students. Once per week, I would attend a full day of classes outside of my normal curriculum. These classes were geard toward free learning, and explicitly taught creative problem solving and research skills. Every unit was self-directed, self-instructed, and self-evaluated.

It has occurred to me, looking back at my education, that at least part of this opportunity should have been offered to every student. The essential skills for self-teaching are not taught in regular curriculum. From simpler topics like how to find information critical to a process, to more complicated topics like procedures for solving specific problems and achieving and evaluating goals, all of these topics seem like basic skills that any person could use daily.

Similar ideas could be excerpted from collegiate lesson plans for use in primary schools. I wonder how well basic philosophy classes would work in late primary education. Sure, you would want to learn basic reading, math, and a bit of science first. But understanding why we know things can sometimes be more important than knowing the thing itself. It can be a foundation for verifying the verisimilitude of knowledge, which is critical in this age of tabloid- and blog-based “news” (or even CNN or Fox News, for that matter).

It might not do well to teach children the same way that college students are taught. But there are surely methods that could be applied to teach a 5th grader essential elements of philosophy.

I think our modern society suffers from a severe lack of creative and rational thought. As a result of that limited type of thinking by our government, we’ve ended up in a purely empirical environment where we teach our kids so that they can answer tests, but can’t synthesize new ideas. This is the beginning of a sad cycle that will be difficult to break.