Teaching to Individuals

Communication, human relations, and reasoning capture what people would agree are basic skills our schools should impart to students. Of course, we must also help students learn skills above and beyond these three processes. But we do not need to mandate long lists of these skills. It is critical that we not fall into the "literacy list" trap of proclaiming that students learn everything we decide to support. People's interests and goals vary, and it is neither plausible nor desirable to teach the same set of skills to every student. Not every student can readily learn every skill.

Students are more likely to learn a skill if it is one they have chosen, and if they have an aptitude for it. One of the primary goals of the school system should be to get students excited about and confident in their ability to learn. Allowing students to choose which interests they will pursue is therefore crucial. As long as they are choosing in concert with a teacher who can judge that what they propose to do is worthwhile, we can be confident they are not wasting their time.

We would want most students to learn the skills that are normally packaged under traditional subject headings, for example:

These are all worthy subjects, and someone who is designing part of the open curriculum should strive to include the skills these subjects package. But not everyone needs to learn any one of these particular subjects (or any one of the particular skills within them). To help the student learn anything useful without crushing his desire to learn in the process, we must be willing to sacrifice the impossible dream that the student learn everything we would like.

Although at the level of the curriculum we should not make anything other than the three basic processes mandatory, at the level of the course, we may insist students learn additional specific skills. Thus, a segment on trucking intended for a high school student might include the requirement that the student learn how to build a budget, develop a print advertisement, or design an air conditioning unit for a refrigerated trailer. Courses may well have specific requirements for students to master. But students should not be forced to take those courses if they don't match some interest the student holds, or that the teacher can help the student develop.

These ideas pertain to business training as well as public education. It would be ludicrous to propose that every business training exercise focus solely on the three basic processes. Perhaps these processes should be part of every exercise, but clearly business training should also aim to impart specific skills. These skills must nevertheless be of intrinsic interest to employees. If they illustrate a way for employees to do their jobs more effectively, for example, they will be of interest as a matter of course. But if, as is the case in some companies, training is primarily a way of getting some time away from the day-to-day grind or fulfilling a mysterious training requirement, then it is quite likely that the training will be valueless, as is so much of the classroom teaching prevalent in the mainstream educational system.

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