The Mis-Education

The Mis-Education

In Argentina I talked with Kareem about how jacked the education system is. My buddy Jared gave me a life-changing book called Teaching as a Subversive Activity that reflects the problem of schools and great ways to improve them.

My question for readers is what is the real education of what you wish you would have learned in school.
Let’s create our dream school. I have some suggestions that I think are vastly more valuable than geometry or other pointless things I hardly remember.

Personal Finance: It’s funny how many people assume since I was a business and econ major that I know something about personal finance. I only learned cause my step-father was active in it and encouraged me to do the same. So many people face credit-card debt (or don’t have a credit card which infuriates me), aren’t sure what a Fico score is and multiple other core financial issues. It should be required to learn this to graduate high school.

Health: So many overweight people in America and we do hardly anything about it. We have PE which is running around a track and counting how many pull-ups you can do. Why not show the importance of showering everyday (is that important?)? How to cook for yourself, which foods to eat and why and the reasons to do different physical fitness.

Relationships: This includes personal and professional. How do you hold a conversation? How do you meet a life partner and treat them well? So many things that you experience in life that having a little practice with couldn’t hurt.

What else do you wish you learned in school?

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18 responses to “The Mis-Education”

Joel Mueller
April 14, 2008 at 8:44 am

I’m going to school you Noah.

April 11, 2008 at 6:45 pm

– how to manage email / rss / tivo / voicemail / magazines / etc – basically, bit literacy:

– how to recognize and defeat learned helplessness in all areas of your life

– field trips to somewhere very different!

April 8, 2008 at 11:44 pm

I agree there’s a lot of basic stuff that should be taught and isn’t. School should be to prepare us for more aspects of our future in addition to academics. There are also some great comments here and I’ll keep this stuff in mind and try to slip these things into a high school physics curriculum. :oP :o) Thanks for the post!

dave mcclure
April 8, 2008 at 10:55 pm

great topic, great post noah.

agree with the ones you mentioned (personal finance, health, relationships) as well as a few others listed (auto care, overall vocational learning). another i would add is basic household maintenance stuff: carpentry, plumbing, electric, etc. i really suck at all of that stuff.

seems like Jon’s company is doing language education online. another company i’m an investor / advisor for is, which helps people search & connect with local teachers & instructors. they haven’t launched yet, altho they’ll be rolling out in Seattle soon.

i’m also learning a lot about education for kids, since we’ve got a 3-year-old about to start pre-school. my wife’s been doing a lot of home-school education with our son and 1-year-old daughter, and between her & the nanny the kids are well on their way to speaking mandarin & japanese. kids just suck up new info from 0-3 at an amazing rate. holy crap.

WSJ also did a recent review (here: of 3 education sites for reviewing / finding schools for kids:

anyone know of other great sites for education info?

Noah Kagan
April 8, 2008 at 9:48 pm

Didn’t know people cared about this topic so much. Something cool I just learned about today are Montessori schools. Basically the kids get to choose what they want to learn. How great is that? I think its a good start.

The problem is the kids with perfect SATS and great test taking skills when it comes to thinking/doing/proactive behavior have real tough times. Is it necessary?

Hell no, take orders, do your work and be happy. I think to be an entrepreneur, be independent, think for yourself and try new things it makes it much easier to start at a young age of questioning things and learning what you want to.

Andrew Warner
April 8, 2008 at 6:14 pm

And another thing:

I think the one thing we can all agree on is that the current system stinks. This isn’t a case of one bad teacher or a single bad school. It’s the whole school system that wasted all of our formative years by playing babysitter, instead of engaging our brains and interests.

To paraphrase some friends, I think we need a revolution in education.

Andrew Warner
April 8, 2008 at 6:09 pm

When we talk about how to re-do the education system, we can’t talk about what people “need to learn” or “have to learn.” That’s just replacing one despotic system with another.

I think we need to give people an engaging way to learn what they’re curious about and trust that they’ll take what they need.

I urge you guys to see what is doing to education. Their menu of teachers and classes is a great solution.

April 8, 2008 at 9:24 am

you’re right. this has been on my mind for some time now. important life topics that kids are not learning in school before they are launched into the real world.

not only that, but there is a need for this info to be packaged and delivered in a way that appeals to young people.

sadly, it will take a long time to change the curriculum in school, so we’ll have to educate young people where they spend most of their time out of school: internet (youtube social networks)

im starting a youTube initiative for progressive peer videos on topics such as:

basic finances (credit)
mental health
communication (with parents, school)
sexual health
goals and motivation

if you know people (experts in these areas) who might be interested in collab’ng on these vids for young people, tag me


April 8, 2008 at 7:22 am

still thinking about this…so here I go again.

Along the lines of Andrew’s comment (Hi Andrew–miss you!), I heard about a school many years ago that allowed students to create their own schedule (who says we all learn math better in the morning?), pick their own subjects, and even create their own learning environment. They had options of desks, floor space, bean bags, listening to music while studying, etc. Not all people learn the same way, so why not give the option to learn in a way that’s customized.

I remember back to my own elementary school experience and I appreciated that I was allowed to do advanced programs (yeah, I was one of THOSE kids). In third grade, I switched to the 6th grade class for a few hours each day. I also was bused over to another school one day a week to do advanced teaching/creative projects and LOVED it. I remember doing reports on tornados and architecture in 4th grade. I’d love to see more options for kids, to explore, to learn, and to challenge.

One last thing…then I promise I’ll stop. I really enjoyed my Freshman year of high school as I had all of my core classes (english, math, science and social studies) with the same group of kids. The school purposely did this so we could bond and build community. Only the Freshman classes were set up this way, but it created a great foundation for that awkward year of high school (i transferred to a new school, so this was vital for me!)

Again, great post and conversation. Lots to think about.

Hiren Patel
April 7, 2008 at 11:58 pm

Every day I am trying to catch up on things I didn’t learn during my “education.” I got diagnosed with type 2 diabetics during high school because I didn’t understand the risks handed to me by genetics and the American food preferences. The health care system didn’t alert of the risks until I had the disease and just tried to treat the symptoms by offering drugs.

I lost the weight and eat right/work out and I am slowly getting my body into the right direction after many many years of poisoning it.

I really wanted to learn a ton of things I didn’t get to learn during school. If I had to ability to try out subjects for 3 weeks and have the option to change into another discipline depending on how i feel, I feel I would have had more options.

I believe we are moving toward a world where kids collaborate more online on projects and subjects they care about, we need to ask less from our students in the traditional sense (Get an A on a subject they don’t care about).

Jon Bischke
April 7, 2008 at 11:57 pm

To act with our hearts and not with our heads (at least not all of the time).

To understand the impact of our actions (what we eat, what we buy, what we consume media-wise, etc.).

To look for connectedness and similarities in the world rather than the divisiveness and differences.

I could go on forever.

Looking for to creating a platform at eduFire (hopefully one of many) where people can actually learn the stuff they need to know.

Noah Kagan
April 7, 2008 at 11:06 pm

Amazing opinions. I think mistakes are great to be made if you are learning in the process. Too many people try to learn before they make mistakes and become too afraid to ever try. I like learning on the job the best.

I think as the book says teaching people a) how to learn b) how to ask questions & c) interested in learning relevant things is really important.

What’s relevant and important? Won’t people have different interests? Exactly, teaching cookie cutter methods and encouraging memorization churns out a society of robots. Let them explore for themselves, provide safe places for people to fail / experiment / succeed…

Devin Reams
April 7, 2008 at 9:49 pm

I wish it was more clear that mistakes are okay, learn by trying, and you can learn far more quickly then the scavenger hunt we call formal education.

Andrew Warner
April 7, 2008 at 4:20 pm

I was just talking with Kareem about this the other day.

He told me about a school that doesn’t have a curriculum. Students pick what they want to learn when they want to learn it. So far, that seems like the most interesting option.

Brian Kotlyar
April 7, 2008 at 2:38 pm

Two comments that don’t exactly answer your question:

1) You should read some Paulo Freire – interesting guy and he was all about education with a purpose.

One idea that I think he helped popularize was the idea of a “Praxis” feedback loop. You educate/learn/analyze then you go out and do something with that knowledge. Then you educate/learn/analyze and take the new knowledge and try again… and so on… and so on…

This doesn’t help with the actual topics we should have learned, but perhaps it will help with the way we should have learned them.

2) I think we need more vocational learning, but not in the sense that we should actually be training for careers while in school (I think the lag between your grade school education and getting out of university is too big for that and forget the degree to which we change and grow in that time). Rather, I think back to my high school education, which was relatively recent, and I am amazed at how I was able to graduate without learning how to code anything.

I remember learning about how in the Cold War the government and business leaders and educators got together and decided to turn our educational system into a math and science machine and guess what… it worked and we reaped the benefits for years. Perhaps we should do something similar to start producing more world class developers, mathematicians etc.

I often think about my liberal arts education and wonder if I might be more economically value to myself, family, community, company, country, world etc. if I had built up a better base of “hard science” type education.

April 7, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Great post. it’s been a while since I’ve commented, but this is a good one. 😉

Personal finance–agreed. this is not something I was taught or that was modeled in my life and I’m paying for it now…literally.

Health–i think schools are doing a better job of teaching this now as the overweight epidemic is becoming a bigger issue in kids. To be honest, parents need to be educated in this as well so they can encourage/help their kids.

relationships–didn’t you ever do the ‘care for an egg like it’s a baby’ thing in elementary school? I don’t know that ‘relationships’ is a course that could be taught as it’s something different for each person and each relationship you’re in. as hard as it may be, learning while doing may be the best for this. we both know this!

I like Sean’s suggestion of auto care. Seriously, my car is one of the biggest stressors in my life. Have I ever told you the story of the ‘gas cap’? My parents still make fun of me to this day about it. =(

I’d love to see a focus on sports and/or creative arts. These are always electives, but I think there’s something to be said about these areas. Think about the life skills you learn from playing sports (it’s not about winning or losing, it’s how you play the game…there’s no I in TEAM–damn, my Recreation degree is coming through!) As for creative arts, it’s a great outlet…gets people using the other side of their brain, which in turn relieves stress and makes you more productive in regular work. Dance, drama/acting, painting, drawing, music, singing, poetry, writing, the list goes on and on. Everybody has something in them they can do.

I’d also love to see schools help students test out a few career paths they’re interested in. This is something I’m passionate about and encourage college women to do. I was lucky enough to realize my course of study was not what I wanted to be doing after being in the field and I changed my major to something that suited me better. I have friends who are accountants, nurses, etc. that have realized it’s not what they thought it would be. Try things out…test the waters…

One last one–service projects. Teaching others to open their eyes to ways they can serve others. I think the world would be a bit more selfless if this was taught and more opportunities presented for people to take advantage of. Care for your neighbor…it’s not always about you.

Great post, Noah. Looking forward to more conversation via comments on this.

Sean Tierney
April 7, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Noah, i’ve long wanted to help develop a high school curriculum for the things that I’ve found to be most important that were never taught. Among them are:

-health/nutrition – this was an afterthought at my high school – like a 4wk course that was lumped in with P.E. Given that we seem to care more about what gas we put in our car than in our bodies, this one is #1.

-time management/stress management- there were never any fundamental tactics taught for this. i’ve piked up GTD and proj management skills on my own. these are critical and should be taught early on.

-personal finance – agreed

-basic internet skills – we take this for granted because we have them but the fundamentals of searching and being able to find answers are key. It’s less about teaching the answers anymore and more about teaching the tools and processes for finding the answers.

-critical thinking – i suppose this is something you pick up over time but it took me until college to realize that people write books and media with an agenda. The news is not pure untainted info- it’s written by someone with an agenda. Being able to extract the agenda and consider the motives of the author in every media produced is important enough to have a course on it in high school.

-auto care – don’t laugh. Given that 90% of people will be dealing with an automobile and common car problems the rest of their life, it would be good to get some car fundamentals and understand the basics of how they work, what goes wrong and how to troubleshoot. This is completely absent in any high school curriculum that I’ve seen.

-Persuasion – this is a meta topic that includes both writing and speaking. Whichever medium you use, ultimately a good component of life is about winning people over in some way. Selling ideas or products, winning employees, investors, partners, etc. Politicians winning votes, doctors winning trust, teachers winning a case for more resources- whatever. Never was there one course on the topic of persuasion.

All the other stuff like math, english, history etc is still relevant but these are practical topics that i believe are conspicuously absent in high school education today.


t h rive
April 7, 2008 at 10:48 am

I guess personal finance would be rather important, but I think that’s more about lessons learned and family teachings.

I grew up in a society (abroad) where we learned very different lessons about money, and as foreigners were not entitled to have jobs even. Subsequently I basically had my first real job when I was in my 20’s (park caretaker/slacker).

Physical Ed, surely that could do with some improvement worldwide! I wince when I hear, anywhere, that programs are closed due to lack of funding. I think McDick’s and A&W should fund school Phys Ed!

As a side-note, and I hope this isn’t offensive right away, I don’t even shower everyday. I think it is a waste of water and just a civil habit to shower every day just because. Then again, I’m a natural non-stinker, and shower when it’s necessary, BEFORE the stink comes in, thanks.