May 2008

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« Laws of Physics | Main | Is Iran as Democratic as the United States? »



I actually did learn CPR as a fifth grader. I never had to use it though.


"I have to wonder how many people who are able to name all of the past U.S. presidents have shaved their heads and joined cults."

Not me. I can only name a few presidents.


The problem here, is that everyone will have different opinions on what 'useful' information is. Several posters argue that complex math skills are unimportant only to be rebutted by other posters who find it useful in the extreme, for example. I myself find that a decent mastery of the english language is quite useful in many arenas, including the business world. People tend to take you more seriously if you speak/write well and conversely are more likely to dismiss your opinions if your speech/text is full of errors. Perhaps what is important is not what or how we teach, but rather how able we are to teach our children effective learning methods.


Well, if schools are not good at doing the job of educating our kids how to cope with life, what job are they good at.

The answer lies here (just copy and paste it into upper bar).


Well, one must learn a vast amount of knowledge while in the formative years. I hope my doctor knows about the femur. And how would that doctor gain interest in his future occupation without at least some exposure while growing up? And thus we must teach a lot of "useless" info to the masses in order to have a diverse world in the future.


Seems to me from a lot of the comments that the only class that needs to be taught is "How to Use Google". And the rest of the world wonders why America's educational system is going down the toilet....Do you want to be the guy that Jay Leno asks on TV "who was the first president?" and answer "Bill Clinton"?


I bet most people look down on primitive tribes. Why? They have all the skills they need to survive in their environment, so they're must be smart, yet they never heard of America and things like that. I bet if you met these guys and were able to communicate you wouldn't say: Wow! These guys are so smart, it must be because they didn't waste their youth on learning the useless shit I had to memorize.
Part of the intelligence is ability to make analogies.
What are you be able to make analogies between if all they teach you is how to balance your checkbook and operate your TV remote?
Intelligent people have to have broader knowledge so they're able to make analogies. Really smart people, like Polish mathematician S. Ulam, are able to find analogies between analogies. It takes genius, and it's beyond my comprehension, to go one more level up.
It takes broad knowledge to nurture a genius, and probably that's what made Leonardo genius.
But maybe most of you are right, you will never use this kind of knowledge anyway, so why bother. You'll live among people with the same kind of horizons, you will be able to balance your checkbooks, talk about Monday night football, and open a bottle of Bud.


si hoc legere scis nimium eruditionis habes

Translation: If you can read this, you are over-educated.

Seriously though: The question we need to answer is how much tracking at what level. By tracking I mean shunting students into different tracks depending on abtitude. Some societies track people from the 3rd grade. This creates a lot of very good specialists who are top of their fields but also produces a lot of people who are unable to function in the modern world. Look at Russia, they track people "only teaching them what they need to know" so that if a 4th grader has math aptitude he/she is sent to a math school where they are doing differential calc by the 8th grade and get a bare minimum of everything else. Of course 80% of kids get shunted into vocational programs that does nothing for them. The result: Russia produces a surprisingly high percentage of the world's best ______ fill in the blank (piano players, dancers, computer programers...) and a surprisingly high percentage of alcholohic wash outs.

The results of this thread seems to be that folks favor a lot more tracking. But when and where to draw the line is the question.


Well, I agree 90%. However, a child grows up, reaches high school and is suddenly confronted with the choice to do biology, science, math, finance, computer studies or whatever els and is unable to make an informed decision because they have no previous experience or an idea where their interests lie. Hmmm, though I do like my high school's approach. Demo your top three choices for a month each and then make a decision. (that obviously excludes the standard subjects like English etc.)


The most important thing is to learn how to learn...after that, anything is possible.


I must agree with passerby, too - English Lit was a great way to wreak good books.

I must also congratulate on his chosen form of rebellion (i.e. refusing to spell Shakespeare correctly). At this point, someone can point out that his dad spelt it a lot of different ways, which is really interesting.

Now this is a topic I could rant on about for a while: bloody Shakespeare; OK, the theory is that Shakey wrote a bunch of stuff that a lot of newer stuff is based upon. Therefore, if we do Shakey, we get great stories that we may recognise in modern literature. However, before we can understand these stories we have to translate them from the obscure English that they are written in and spend ages figuring out how they would have been acted out because they are, of course, actually play scripts, not novels. This gives ample opportunity for tedious English teachers to meticulously pick over their favourite passages and bore the living crap out of everyone who couldn't really give a shit about the finer points of someone's opinion of what might have been meant by something that was written a very, very long time ago.

I would replace Shakey studies with:
a) The video version. Even that awful Baz Luhrmann crap. This is not just the same as reading it, it's actually *better*, because their plays and plays are supposed to be watched, not read.
b) Modern versions of the same kind of stories. So what if Shakey got there first? Let's have some language we can actually understand. Even Jane Austin is modern enough to make sense, in the most part, without having to research every other bloody line.

For me, it's time that could be spend doing similar but much more enjoyable and useful studies. I'd chuck all that Biblical crap out, too - "Greatest story every told" my arse - "Commando" was a better story than that rubbish. Oh and anything that's written in Middle English is, of course, a waste of fucking time, too.


I was talking about this stuff with a couple of teachers last night; I think it's good to introduce children to essentially useless stuff in case they find that area really interesting and want to pursue it in their future career. For instance, a child may really enjoy learning about femurs and decide they want to be some manner of biologist or medical doctor.

What seems weird to me, though, is that they actually test people on this stuff. I mean, if you enjoy the lesson on femurs then that's great, but, as you point out, it's not like you're ever likely to actually need to know that - at least unless you take a very particular path. So why give someone a bad grade for not giving a shit about something pointless?

I think kids should be allowed - or perhaps actually be encouraged - to answer irrelevant questions in exams with "this is irrelevant". If they are correct, they should get a special "has own brain" point.


Well... One more voice from another country. Poland that is.
During my fasinating process of education, which was always aiming at math and stuff I've learned a lot about:

1. Bacteries, fungus, amebes.
2. Location of everything. And I mean for example 'where the biggest herds of goats are located'.
3. Quantum physics - started age 15. Now I would be able to split an atom if I had: money, time, laboratory, any interest in it
4. History of every country that'd managed to have one. Including U.S. Presidents.

After that I've graduated in IT and Economy + statistics.
I'm a marketing guy, and everything I use I've learnt on weekends. Two weekends that is.

The only reason to go thru the whole process is 'to know thigs'. I'm a really interesting person to talk to now.
The fact that someone is sucessful in life does not concern education. Never. Finding possibilities is not someting you can learn in school.
And saying 'well, we can't teach you anything useful, go home' would effect in a large number of unemployed teachers.

BTW: "You can never tell if it is bullshit or not until you get so close, that identifying it is the smallest problem".


Just to correct a comment left by someone called "me":

"I once heard you are better off not knowing anything about CPR. The thing is, if you try it but the person dies anyway, you can be sued."

This is not true - if you learn CPR at school or in a class and you try to help someone but end up hurting them more (breaking ribs, damaging other injuries etc) you cannot be sued for trying to help. It's called the Good Samaritan law.

If you are a medical professional - doctor, nurse, paramedic or emt - then you can be sued, if you have done something wrong.

No-one can be sued for doing CPR and having the person die anyway - a fair proportion of people on whom cpr is performed are already dead and nothing on this planet could bring them back to life...

On the other point:
"On the other hand, if you know how to do it but you don´t try anything, you can be sued. "

Again, only a trained professional(this is the important word!) has a duty to help others. Someone who may have learned cpr outside of the medical profession cannot be sued.


I wonder how many times a person at an accident scene survived because the paramedic knew what a femur was, and that being th e largest bone in the body, if it was broken, you'd better attend to it.

Olli Lindholm

HI Scot

I'm on the 8:th grade of finish public school (for you american dimwits who don't know finish school system it means last grade of junior high school) and I have noticed that we do teach knowing bullshit. aka everything they try to teach us.

Love the comics . Keep on the good work .
you'r the man.

John Edwards

I learned lots of things in school. I know many things now. Sadly it doesn't appear to have aided me in finding a career that I particularly want or otherwise being dramatically successful.

Any chance of you opening up a school that teaches your suggested subjects? If you can make it next to my house so I don't have to travel far I'd appreciate it.


How can anyone not hate kids! Yuck!!


This is probably the most intelligent post you have made. I really wish you had been in charge of the school curriculum. Would have been a lot better than the nonsense I was taught there. Its amazing how much information you later find out is false. There is a program in the UK called QI (quite interesting) that basically goes through everything you learnt at school and explains why it is wrong.

I'd replace pointless subjects like R.E. and english lit with your ideas. English literature class ruined many a good book for me. Spending an hour while the teacher explains the subtleties of the meaning of the first sentence of a chapter in the book kills any enjoyment the book might have provided. Seriously a whole hour on one boring sentence the original writer probably spent 30 seconds on. And poetry. If I had a time machine I'd go back and shoot Shakespear as a child to spare all the school children from suffering through that shite.


In the UK, kids are basically taught how to pass exams. There is no need to actually *learn* anything or be able to put it to any good use apart from passing the next exam...unless they failed because they are too stupid to pass an exam.

Why is this? Because success of schools is measured by exam passes not what the kids leaving actually know.

We need to discover telepathy so that we can actually 'see' what is actually inside a kids head when they graduate: is it a warehouse of intermingling ideas and brilliance or a desert with tumbleweed blowing around and a dog barking in the distance.

I agree with the new things that should be taught.

Obviously, they can not be graded but the risk assessment part should be used to stop the compensation culture and let Darwins Natural Selection take its course. If you WERE too stupid to wrongly risk assess standing on a kitchen freezer door, fall off and crack your skull open on the cooker hob then it's your own fault NOT the freezer manufacturers for not realising there would be someone idiotic enough to do that. So, don't try and sue someone for it.

There *has* been some stupid enough to do this which is why warnings are put on them. IT'S A FREEZING DEVICE NOT A STEPLADDER.


two words. Money management!


Scott, your a breath of common sense. Thanks


To the few of you who actually had the nerve to say advanced math is useless in the real world, the only thing you have shown is that you never really learned advanced mathematics. If you had you would use it. It is frightening how often I think through common occurrences with the things I've learned in advanced algebra, trig and calculus classes.

And for anyone defending the current public education system in the U.S., unless you are currently or recently enrolled in a public school, or possibly a teacher, you have no business defending something you probably have no first hand knowledge of. As someone who is five years out of highschool I can assure you that regardless of the names of the advanced classes we are taking, like "AP Calculus" and "AP Physics" they are not real calculus and physics classes. These classes are designed specifically to help students pass the Advanced Placement tests and do very little to help us learn the subjects themselves. They are largely practices in rote memorization and very rarely will any applicable knowledge be transferred. There is a reason every advisor for technical and science majors at my university suggests that all incoming students retake math from the pre-calculus level. There is a reason that every one of my engineering professors is amazed at the number of people in our classes who do not know basic calculus and physics in any sort of applicable way. Most of us have only taken those subjects in highschool and were only taught to pass tests. That is the fundamental flaw in the current U.S. school system. Though our university system cannot be topped our lower education system revolves around teaching tests to ensure fedral and state standards are met and thus funding is recieved. I can guarantee you that every one of your junior high and high school students who are even moderately intelligent recognize this too. We made jokes about it in highschool all the time, but we were also not stupid enough to complain. The current lower education students have a good thing going. They really don't have to learn any sort of applicable knowledge and it's a lot easier to memorize facts and methods than it is to understand theories. Unfortunately, this will catch up to them should they decide to enter any technical field. If they don't, they probably will never know how hindered they are by the education, or lack thereof, they received. Having younger relatives who are still moving through the public school system I can say it's not getting better either. I am very, very concerned for the future of our country if this doesn't change soon because the position we've enjoyed for so long as one of the leaders in technology and innovation is going to slip from our grasp. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that any solution exists as long as the state and federal governments are putting "standards" on schools, because the current system is more than likely the most efficient way to meet any such standards. Let's just hope somebody figures something out fast.


Hi there,

I opened a blog a few days ago, to demonstrate that Internet can pay a car, with some little ads and donations.

Here is the link :

Enjoy !


Americans make reeeally weird TV shows... but then again, what can I say? Big Brother was a Dutch idea...

I once heard you are better off not knowing anything about CPR. The thing is, if you try it but the person dies anyway, you can be sued. On the other hand, if you know how to do it but you don´t try anything, you can be sued. The only way nobody can sue you is if you don´t know how to do it and you don´t do anything, just make the phone call.

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