ROTHENBURGER: The eternal question – what should be taught in school?

What should and should not be taught in school has been debated ever since Socrates declared that he had nothing to teach at all. His only job, he said, was to look for answers.

When I was at school, I had to sit in many classes that I had no use for. Algebra for example. I’ve always been terrible at anything math related. I can’t remember ever having had a use for algebra in my life.

I learned to read and write and about people like Wordsworth and Lord Byron and Shakespeare and even Edgar Allan Poe and about the history of the world wars and picked up some French from cereal boxes and enough physics to know why we don’t fall off the face of the earth . One of the most important things I learned in high school was typing — it’s a skill I use every day (and use right now).

I built a pair of wooden bookends in Industrial Arts. The rudimentary carpentry skills learned there have also proven themselves. While the boys were in IA, the girls in Home Economics learned how to cook and sew, two skills that would have been helpful to me.

From the start we were taught the Maclean method of writing, a beautiful, disciplined method of handwriting that I and everyone else I knew gave up in favor of messy doodles once we got out of school.

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Schools are asked to teach many things. The three R’s are just a start. They are now expected to teach our children everything they need to know about life and the demands are increasing.

With the drug overdose crisis, schools are supposed to teach them how to administer naloxone, how to use a defibrillator, and perform CPR. After a pilot program in Ottawa, it is also being offered to schools across the country.

And of course there is racism. Schools are now expected to teach about it. As Secretary of Education Jennifer Whiteside said, “Schools need to be safe and welcoming places for students, families and staff.”

The BC Lions football team was recruited to make presentations on “Anti-Racism, Diversity, Justice and Inclusion.”

Along with the broad issue of racism, schools are being asked to teach about the boarding school system and to revise history courses to include the ills of colonialism.

As climate change brings us ever closer to the point of environmental catastrophe, there is a growing demand for schools that teach how to stop it.

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And there is personal finance. We didn’t learn much about it when I was in school, but it’s becoming increasingly important to know how to budget, understand mortgages and their costs, manage credit card debt, and even how stock markets work.

I referenced a survey in an editorial a few weeks ago about how people are using their credit cards to fund inflation — non-mortgage debt for the average British Columbian is now about $22,000, and that’s scary.

Personally, I think schools should teach more about politics. I am often appalled at how little people know who is doing what in government and why, at all levels. You vote in ignorance.

Some people think schools should teach work-life balance, how to grieve constructively, how to file income taxes, how to avoid divorce, how to survive in the woods when you get lost, how to keep a room clean, how to Problem fixed broken water pipe and good nutrition.

There is no shortage of lists of what should be taught in schools. Perhaps we need a list of things that should not be taught.

Somehow we have to narrow it down because there aren’t enough hours in the day or week to teach everything that ‘should’ be taught in schools. We expect schools to teach everything that we as parents should have taught them, or that children should have the common sense to learn for themselves.

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In this internet world, there is no shortage of information about anything under the sun as long as we can use the BS to figure out what’s real. In my world, we should go back to basics and a few other essentials, but don’t expect schools to solve everything for us.

They just can’t. Getting rid of algebra would be a good start, but the question of what to teach in schools is unclear. But if Socrates were still with us, he would probably tell us to keep asking.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the board of directors for the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. He can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s Note: This opinion piece reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of CFJC Today or Pattison Media.

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