About the SA Blog Network

Doing Good Science

Doing Good Science

Building knowledge, training new scientists, sharing a world.
Doing Good Science Home

On the apparent horrors of requiring high school students to take chemistry.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

There’s a guest post on the Washington Post “Answer Sheet” blog by David Bernstein entitled “Why are you forcing my son to take chemistry?” in which the author argues against his 15-year-old son’s school’s requirement that all its students take a year of chemistry.

Derek Lowe provides a concise summary of the gist:

My son will not be a chemist. He will not be a scientist. A year of chemistry class will do nothing for him but make him miserable. He could be taking something else that would be doing him more good.

Bernstein’s post is a slurry of claims about chemistry, secondary education, and the goals of education more generally with respect to human flourishing — in other words, the kind of thing I need to take apart for close examination before responding.

So, that’s what I’m going to do here.

Let’s start with Bernstein’s account of the dawning of the horror:

I discovered that my 15-year-old  son must suffer through a year of chemistry because a “Committee of Ten” academics was assembled in 1892 in order to standardize the curriculum (how’s that for a bad idea?) and recommended that chemistry, among other subjects, be taught to everyone everywhere.

Bernstein is right that tradition is not in itself a good reason to require that all high school students take a year-long chemistry course. On the other hand, tradition is not in itself a good reason to assert that a year-long chemistry course is a wrongheaded requirement.

The author proceeds to make noises acknowledging that he is glad that someone in our society is doing chemistry, what with all the goodies it delivers to enhance our modern lifestyles. He even writes:

[M]y very own mother, who if I am lucky will never lay eyes on this article, is a chemist, and believes that chemistry is the most noble of human pursuits and doesn’t understand how I, a former philosophy major, was able to eke out a living.

I have some thoughts here, as someone who has been both a chemistry major and a philosophy major. First, Bernstein does not exactly do philosophy majors proud in his post, given that he projects the (mistaken) view that the whole point of philosophy is to provoke. But, his revelation that he was philosophy-majoring chemist’s spawn seems to hint at … let’s call them generational differences of opinion. It strikes me that Bernstein might do well to attend to such generational differences of opinion — and to the possibility that they may also be present in his interactions with his own offspring. More about this anon.

Bernstein then goes through the reasons he has heard to justify the requirement that his 15-year-old must take a year of high school chemistry. First up is the problem of American competitiveness and the pressing shortage of science. To this, Bernstein replies:

[M]y son is not going to be a scientist. The very thought of it makes me laugh.

Don’t get me wrong — I think “American competitiveness” is a less-than-compelling reason to require high school students to take much of anything. But on what basis can Bernstein make this claim about his 15-year-old son? Most 15-year-olds of my acquaintance (and no small number of 25-year-olds, not to mention 35-year-olds) have very little solid idea what they want to be when they grow up. They are focused on the pressing problem of figuring out who they’re going to be, not on what they’re going to do for a living.

Parents may have hunches about their kids’ aptitudes and affinities, but we need to be honest that we can’t know for sure. Bernstein should at least entertain the possibility that an inspiring science teacher might make a career in science, or at least further study in chemistry, something his son wants.

Of course, it’s possible I’ve misread Bernstein as being descriptive here where he’s really being prescriptive: No child of mine is going to do something as disgraceful as becoming a scientist!

We turn to another possible reason for the chemistry requirement, and Bernstein’s response:

Chemistry will teach him analytical skills that he can apply to other fields.

Great. So will a hundred other possible subjects that will be less painful and potentially even more interesting to him. An experimental physicist recently told me that at this phase in chemistry instruction “it’s all about memorization anyway.”

To start, how exactly does Bernstein know ahead of time which subjects will be less painful and which will be potentially interesting? Hearsay and innuendo from a chemistry-hating parent may not be enough to make an accurate determination. On top of this, why think that high school chemistry should be essentially a matter of rote memorization and those other possible subjects are not?

On this point, See Arr Oh provides a particularly useful response:

Mr. Bernstein argues against mainstream chemistry education as “all memorization.” Well, I’ll agree – there’s a lot to take in that first go-around. But while elemental numbering, valence electrons, and balancing equations sound rote and boring up front, the trends are the critical information. What makes atoms bigger or smaller? Why are ionic (charged) and covalent (shared) bonds so different? What does acidic or basic really mean? Once mastered, these types of rational thinking – using data to read trends – show up in all sorts of other pursuits, from buying stocks to choosing a healthy diet.

I will add that high school chemistry, when taught well, has very little rote memorization of seemingly unconnected facts. I know this because my memory is not good (and is even worse in test conditions), and I came out of my high school chemistry class with a reasonably good feel for the kind of rational thinking See Arr Oh is talking about.

Derek Lowe also supports the view that what you want from a chemistry class is not perfect recall of a pile of facts:

I think, after a basic list of facts and concepts, that what I’d like for kids to get out of a science class is the broader idea of experimentation – that the world runs by physical laws which can be interrogated. Isolating variables, varying conditions, generating new hypotheses: these are habits of mind that actually do come in handy in the real world, whether you remember what an s orbital is or not. I’m not sure how well these concepts get across, though.

Habits of mind are the intended long-term take-away from a high school science class. High school science classes that are taught well actually deliver some familiarity with those habits of mind. Bernstein may have a legitimate concern that the quality of chemistry instruction in his son’s school is not sufficient to deliver the goods, but then might be better off arguing for better chemistry instruction, not against requiring chemistry in the first place.

Indeed, it doesn’t sound like Bernstein has much use for the habits of mind one might develop in a chemistry course in his own life. As Derek Lowe muses:

[A]lthough I’d like people to know some of these things, I wonder if not knowing them has harmed [Bernstein] too much. What might have harmed him, though, is a lack of knowledge of those broader points. Or a general attitude that science is That Stuff Those Other People Understand. You make yourself vulnerable to being taken in if you carry that worldview around with you, because claiming scientific backing is a well-used ploy. You should know enough to at least not be taken in easily.

It’s good to know enough about how the scientific knowledge gets built, in other words, not to end up unwittingly buying a monthly supply of snake oil.

Bernstein raises, and responds to, another justification for a chemistry requirement:

Kids must be exposed to different subjects in order to know what they’re good at and interested in.

Again, agreed. Maybe kids can survey several science classes over the course of a year or two, and explore various options. They can be given a taste of a veritable potpourri of subjects throughout their education. But my son is not being exposed to chemistry, he’s forced to spend a year of his life studying chemistry every day, which translates into a year of misery for him and our entire family, and paying for tutors who just get him through the course.

There’s quite a bit to unpack in this response.

One of the issues here is about the relative value of a science curriculum that takes a shallow look at a broad range of subjects compared to a science curriculum that goes deeper into a more narrowly focused piece of subject matter. Which approach does a better job helping students notice, and partake of, the applied rational thinking and habits of mind that See Arr Oh and Derek Lowe identify as the most useful bits of intro level chemistry? My own sense, from the perspective of someone who has taught intro chemistry and who felt pretty lost for the first quarter of my own high school chemistry course, is that it takes time, practice, and depth of engagement to do anything that resembles “thinking like a chemist”. It’s worth noting, though, that the unifying principles of chemistry (those things that kept it from becoming a long list of disjointed facts to memorize for the test) were a lot closer to the surface than they seemed to be in high school biology.

Another issue here relates to more than just one’s scientific education. What does it mean to be exposed to a topic in a useful way? How much exposure do you need (and how deep must the engagement be) before you have any good basis for judging your interest or potential, whether at the present moment or at some point in the future?

It strikes me that trying something can mean taking a chance on being over your head for a while — and that we often learn more in situations where we flounder than in situations where we skate by with little effort.

I have written before:

Doing science is something that is learned. It is not an intrinsic quality of a person. This means that you are not allowed to decide you are bad at it if you haven’t been immersed in learning it.

And here, we circle back to Berstein’s claim that a year of high school chemistry for his son will be a year of misery for the family. It almost sounds as if he thinks there is a sure-fire way to avoid any suffering connected to one’s offspring’s schooling. As the parent of a teenager, I doubt this is possible.

Parenting seems to necessitate helping your kid through all sorts of situations that involve some degree of suffering. Kids are being asked to develop new skills and habits of mind while they are simultaneously trying to figure out who the hell they want to be, establishing themselves as independent entities from their parents, and so forth. Kids are doing hard stuff, in school, and in life. We hope that they are gaining something from being brave enough and persistent enough to try hard things — even hard things they might not choose if left to their own devices. There may well be particular kinds of hard situations that challenge their brains with particular modes of thought that they’re not likely to encounter elsewhere until well into adulthood. Note that this might be a good argument for requiring that high school students study a foreign language or instrumental music, or that they participate in a team sport. I’m OK with that.

Finally, Bernstein addresses the “life is hard” rationale, namely, that the suffering generated by required courses is good preparation for the suffering of the workforce. Again, I think this is a weak rationale at best, but Bernstein’s response is even weaker:

I don’t know what you do for a living but I love what I do and rarely engage in work I don’t enjoy. If we’re going to pressure him, let’s do it in subjects where he can grow and put to use [sic] some day.

It is breathtaking that Bernstein seems not to recognize how privileged he is to have a paying job that he actually loves, given an economy in which plenty of people would willingly do work they can barely tolerate if it pays a decent wage and comes with benefits. And even then, it’s hard to imagine that anyone but the boss can really completely avoid all pieces of less-than-enjoyable work. There’s a reason why they call it “work” — and why people tend not to do it for free.

Moreover, there are some things that we do in our lives beyond our careers that might occasionally require work that is less than thoroughly enjoyable. For example, parenting a 15-year-old might not always be thoroughly enjoyable. Yet, it’s work that needs to be done.

Here, too, note that Bernstein seems to have complete confidence in his ability to discern which subjects will someday be of use to his son. The future, apparently, is crystal clear to him.

Moreover, Bernstein frames a year of required chemistry as claiming an unacceptably high opportunity cost:

When you force my son to take chemistry (and several other subjects, this is not only about chemistry), you are not allowing him that same time to take a public speaking course, which he could be really good at, or music, or political science, or creative writing, or HTML coding for websites.

Maybe he will learn something in chemistry somewhere along the way. But he will lose out on so many other more important opportunities, and so will our society, which will have deprived itself of his full contribution.

Set aside, for a moment, the fact that taking public speaking, or music, or political science, or so forth also comes with an opportunity cost (and that again, Bernstein seems to have reliable information from the future about which opportunity costs will lead to the best returns). I am deeply disturbed — and not a little freaked out — that a parent is commodifying his child’s school day, and choices in life more broadly, by framing them in terms of opportunity costs. Does Berstein see his son’s future as completely devoid of more opportunities? Is this kid’s full contribution to society contingent on being able to dodge redox reactions in high school? That strikes me as a pretty fragile trajectory for human flourishing.

A few years ago, I wrote about an element of what makes a college education valuable that is often overlooked and under-appreciated. I think it also applies to some degree to what our kids might get out of their high school educations:

You have your mind. You have the ability to think about things, to experience the world, to decide what matters to you and how you want to pursue it. You have your sense of curiousity and wonder when you encounter something new and unexpected, and your sense of satisfaction when you figure something out. You have the power to imagine ways the world could be different. You even have the ability (the responsibility?) to try to make the world different.

This is what I think a college education should give you: lots of hands-on experience using your mind so you know different ways you can think about things and you start to figure out what you care about.

Yes, you may encounter a lot of facts in your college education, but the real value of those facts is that they give you experience thinking about them in different ways. What you come away with is the ability to think about different facts out there in the “real world”. You get the ability to use the facts you encounter to draw your own conclusions rather than having to take someone else’s word for it. (The thing about those other people who will just tell you what you should think? Sometimes they lie.)

Thinking is hard. It requires a lot more effort than floating through the world on auto-pilot. But once you get started, it’s more addictive than potato chips. Thinking is fun. Even a little slice of a life of the mind (maybe reading a novel on the bus every morning) can counteract a fair bit of drudgery (like the job you’re riding that bus to get to). The joe-job is sometimes unavoidable; you’ve got to eat. But nourishing your mind gives you something better than just biological existence.

What, really, are we expecting kids to get out of school, and how are these things connected (or not) to the specifics of the curriculum? How much of what we’re hoping for is about to giving our kids particular job-ready skills? How much is about keeping future doors open for them (e.g., being able to major in chemistry without burning lots of time and money on remediation) should they choose, in the future, to go through them? How much has to do with a broader aim of human flourishing — and who gets to decide what that human flourishing should look like?

I worry what it says about us that parents (former philosophy majors, even!) are happy to parade their disdain for subjects they’ve decided, on the basis of who knows what, will be of absolutely no interest or use to their kids.

I also worry about what seems to be happening to childhood and adolescence in the U.S. if we cannot figure out how to help our kids meet the challenges of life — which sometimes include the challenges of the required curriculum — and if we cast the contexts in which kids are asked to try something they may not love, even something with which they may need to struggle, as essentially a (school) year of their lives that they are never getting back. Verily, this is the nature of time, flying like an arrow in one direction and so forth, but time that is not obviously productive is not thereby wasted. Kids need time to follow paths that may not lead to obvious destinations. They should have the chance to pursue lots of opportunities. For parents to cast them in terms of opportunity costs is not, in my view, the best way for them to cherish time with their kids.

Janet D. Stemwedel About the Author: Janet D. Stemwedel is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at San José State University. Her explorations of ethics, scientific knowledge-building, and how they are intertwined are informed by her misspent scientific youth as a physical chemist. Follow on Twitter @docfreeride.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Rights & Permissions

Comments 15 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. aimee w 11:25 pm 10/16/2012

    Awesome post, thanks!

    I’d like to add a couple of thoughts, if I may :)

    First: I note that the list of possible ‘instead-of-chemistry courses he lists do not include anything about science (I don’t count political science as ‘science’, per se).

    This worries me. It’s quite well agreed that scientific literacy is going to become increasingly important so that people, and thus their politicians, are equipped to make educated choices around much of what will be happening now and in the coming decades. Also, is this because his son isn’t interested? Or his dad is anti it? I mean, ‘HTML coding for websites’? REALLY?! A public speaking course? useful, fine, but hardly on the same level as learning critical thinking and scientific literacy.

    Additionally, there’s nothing to say said son might not see the proverbial stream of photos and either take up chemistry, or some other field of science (even if it’s only interest, rather than wanting to actively study it school/university etc). And the writer seems to forget that a) teaching methods have changed and that b) chemistry involves all kinds of school stuff, including explosions. Something a 15 year old boy is going, probably, to LOVE.

    Finally – what’s wrong with a kid having to put in some effort for something? How on earth does one learn perseverance and strength of character, or how to sometimes get on with things one doesn’t love every moment of(a valuable skill as an adult)? And where’s the satisfaction of having tried hard, and having something click into place? Some of the most unemployable people I’ve ever met seem to think that they should only ever do what they want to, and what they enjoy, ALL the time.

    Looking at it overall, the whole piece comes across with that heady mix of arrogance and insecurity one often sees amongst those with an anti-science message.

    Link to this
  2. 2. RyanG 12:06 am 10/17/2012

    When I was 15 I planned to be an accountant. When I was 24 I became a paramedic. Mandatory science classes really came in handy.

    Here (BC Canada) I believe the requirement is a couple years of any science, but not chemistry in particular.

    Link to this
  3. 3. jbohland 12:26 am 10/17/2012

    Excellent analysis. Why do people keep finding new justifications for ignorance?

    Link to this
  4. 4. evelynjlamb 12:28 am 10/17/2012

    It’s nice to see Bernstein’s type of “logic” for a class other than math for a change. Just kidding.

    Bernstein’s article is stupid for most of the same reasons the anti-math education articles are stupid. One way to guarantee that students won’t have to use math or science in their careers is to let them choose not to take them when they’re young and have no idea what they’re actually going to want to do when they grow up. Kids don’t get to choose to eat fries with a side of ice cream for dinner every night.

    It’s also kind of sad to me that he laughs at the idea that his kid might become a scientist. Part of me understands that parents can probably see aptitudes and attitudes in their kids pretty well, and I don’t know the kid at all. But I know how many different types of people become mathematicians and scientists. They have such different personalities, strengths, interests, etc. There’s no one type of person who becomes a scientist, and I think there isn’t any one personality who can’t become a scientist.

    The opportunity cost thing is totally bogus, too. I’m a mathematician. Does that mean I should have only taken math in high school? I would probably know more math now if I had. But in high school, I thought math was boring. At that point, I would have chosen to take more biology and chemistry classes because I thought I was going to be a nutrition and pharmaceutical researcher/doctor. But I loved music, Latin, theater, and literature too. It would have been really sad for me not to get to take those classes because I needed to take only what would help my eventual career. Which I was clearly wrong about at that time anyway. Gah!

    Also, and this is nitpicking: We’re adding elements to the periodic table with some frequency. Asking how many elements are on the periodic table is not really indicative of chemistry knowledge, just like asking someone to regurgitate the quadratic formula is not indicative of math knowledge.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Janet D. Stemwedel in reply to Janet D. Stemwedel 12:30 am 10/17/2012

    Indeed, it seems as if they expend more effort arguing that they are entitled not to learn [X] than it would take to actually learn [X].

    It may not surprise you that, as the parent of a teenager, I witness this kind of behavior at close range, fairly regularly. However, I’m optimistic that it’s just a phase.

    Link to this
  6. 6. ADDworks! 1:17 am 10/17/2012

    I had two years of chem and two years of biology in HS. I use the chemistry fairly often — every time I pick up food in the market and read the label (and then set most of it back on the shelf while backing away quietly). It also helps me figure out what my Drs. are trying to shove down my throat. Thank goodness for a good grounding in inorganic chem and Wikipedia!

    Link to this
  7. 7. CraftLass 1:52 am 10/17/2012

    I hated chemistry in high school. I wound up having 3 different teachers for it, 2 were awful teachers and downright mean to female students, 1 was amazing and really took the time to answer our questions and guide us to further information when we were interested in a topic. All 3 had a profound effect on me that I never would have imagined.

    I’m a musician, chemistry is definitely not one of the sciences that I really work with. However, I now realize that I use knowledge gained in high school chemistry every single day. Chemistry is all around us. Want to bake a nice fluffy cake or flaky pie crust? That’s chemistry. There are plenty of examples like that, I could write a book of them and I’ve only studied the subject on a high school level. I’m trying to teach myself some higher-level chemistry now because it’s simply fascinating and everything I learn leads to more curiosity. How could I know that if I wasn’t outright forced to take it 20 years ago?

    All schools should require a year of chemistry and a year of physics at a minimum. I agree with the arguments about learning how to think through such courses, but I also think the answer to someone like Bernstein is simply, “Because your son will use what he learns every day without even realizing it.”

    P.S. The same answer can be used for math, especially algebra and geometry. Again, I’m not a scientist or a mathematician, but without schooling in both I could NEVER be a musician (physics and math) or a really good cook/baker (chemistry and math), let alone a huge cheerleader for science and citizen science. I’m pretty proud to be all of the above and grateful to my “evil, evil” schools for forcing me to study a wide range of subjects.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Jimfreese 5:49 am 10/17/2012

    One of the most well written articles I’ve read recently.

    This author has put herself high on my radar as her analysis is sound and her use of words suburb.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Sauce23 8:23 am 10/17/2012

    Brilliant piece. Thank you for explaining why everyone should explore science. Oh, and as a philosophy major I deeply appreciate your clarification of philosophy’s place in thinking.

    Link to this
  10. 10. yarberry 12:04 pm 10/17/2012

    The anti-intellectual, anti-science movement keeps moving on in America. We need more plumbers, accountants and baristas that understand the basic concepts of science and the scientific method. Maybe then ideas like global climate change and evolution would be understood and not feared.

    Link to this
  11. 11. tharter 12:31 pm 10/17/2012

    @Janet- I think to some extent that’s also a matter of upbringing. In my case I used to go to work with my father when I was a kid on the weekend (well, he worked too much, but still). He did various sorts of engineering work, and he taught me a lot (most of which I forgot, so it goes). Learning about things was not WORK, it was ENTERTAINMENT, it was just ‘the way things are’, OF COURSE you learned about everything around you.

    While my parents were happy enough that we were happy deciding to do whatever we have done in life there was never even a question that we would want to learn everything we could. It would have been unimaginable to hear them complain that some class was a waste of time as long as you were learning something and it was challenging.

    I don’t even get Bernstein’s mind set, but I’m not even sure I get “chemistry is hard”. How about “chemistry is a joy, I will learn!” (and you can substitute any of the other classes we had in high school, art, Spanish, etc). What makes me sad is the underlying attitude that learning is like taking out the trash, some sort of chore.

    Link to this
  12. 12. jkinyoun 12:59 pm 10/17/2012

    I’d like some help with making intro chem less about memorization than I’m currently teaching it. Some of it really is at that level. I’d like it to be less so.

    I have a feeling this includes incorporating more real-life applications with which the student’s can relate. This takes time- good reading, wide variety of experience,etc.

    Any feedback here would be helpful?

    Link to this
  13. 13. Asteroid Miner 3:06 pm 10/17/2012

    I don’t for a moment “believe” anything the father of the 15 year old said, unless the kid is really stupid.

    Background: Nature isn’t just the final authority on truth, Nature is the Only authority. There are zero human authorities. Scientists do not vote on what is the truth. There is only one vote and Nature owns it. We find out what Nature’s vote is by doing Scientific [public and replicable] experiments. Scientific [public and replicable] experiments are the only source of truth. [To be public, it has to be visible to other people in the room. What goes on inside one person's head isn't public unless it can be seen on an X-ray or with another instrument.]
    Science is a simple faith in Scientific experiments and a simple absolute lack of faith in everything else.

    “Science and Immortality” by Charles B. Paul, 1980, University of California Press.

    Science is the ultimate Protestant Reformation in which Religion is reformed out of existence. Priests were no longer necessary when everybody could read the source of knowledge. Science takes the next step: Ancient text is not the source of knowledge when every person can find out the truth by carefully following a procedure called “Science” for him/herself.

    In the book: “Revolutionary Wealth” by Alvin & Heidi Toffler, 2006 Chapter 19, FILTERING TRUTH, page 123 lists six commonly used filters people use to find the “truth”. They are:
    1. Consensus
    2. Consistency
    3. Authority
    4. Mystical revelation or religion
    5. Durability
    6. Science

    “A year of chemistry class will do nothing for him but make him miserable.” NOT!
    A year of chemistry class might free the kid from the shackles of religion. Reference: “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch. Religion is mentally DISABLING. Religion robs people of their reasoning power and creativity. The “father” is a religious right wing extremist. The “father” wants to keep the child in shackles to fulfill the childish needs of the father. The non-believers are the fastest growing “religious” “sect” in the US and the world.

    What the kid really needs is psychiatric treatment for the father.

    Link to this
  14. 14. Brian Gilbert 6:53 pm 10/17/2012

    @ jkinyoun – Chemistry need not be taught as a series of disconnected facts that one must memorize. One of the best examples of this comes from the POGIL project (, which emphasizes the active exploration of models and data as a way to construct and apply chemical concepts. There are specific materials for both HS and several college level chemistry courses. Check them out!

    Link to this
  15. 15. sciliz 8:41 pm 10/17/2012

    For the record, you can major in chemistry without wasting time/money on remediation without taking high school chemistry. Technically, you can do it without any high school, but that’s getting into obscure cases such as myself. I will concede that you might not be able to do it without sound mathematical skills (particularly algebra).
    At least that was true at my undergrad uni (6th in the US for chem grad programs by US News, so probably not a shoddy program).

    Also, with all due respect (and I hold a great deal of respect for you as a parent, among other roles), I think mayhap you are projecting *your* tendency to take a far more more active/directional role in your sprog’s education than 95+% of the parents onto this guy. His presentation of the situation is entirely consistent with his *kid* truly detesting chemistry, not necessarily projecting his own feelings onto the matter. So, while I do appreciate that it *would* be creepy if he were foisting his views on his kid, I’d argue it’s much MORE creepy for us, who don’t even know the kid, to assume he should be forced to take chemistry. You argue persuasively that the father shouldn’t assume he’ll know what the kid will use… thus, you also argue that we can’t know what the kid will use either. We *could* determine what the kid *wants* to learn though, simply by asking him. I’d even go so far as to argue perhaps his father has actually done this. Although asking students what they want is somehow not relevant in high school, because… the Chinese will eat our lunch if we don’t oppress our youngsters? I really don’t know.

    As far as the purposes of education:
    “You have your mind. You have the ability to think about things, to experience the world, to decide what matters to you and how you want to pursue it. You have your sense of curiousity and wonder when you encounter something new and unexpected, and your sense of satisfaction when you figure something out. You have the power to imagine ways the world could be different. You even have the ability (the responsibility?) to try to make the world different.”
    In a perfect world, absolutely students would get that out of their high school experience. But it’s not going to happen in all (many?) cases. I cannot conceive of a perfect world with compulsory education full of compulsory classes with no margin for choice being an optimal method to achieve the noble goals you’ve laid out here.
    You seem to be assuming that people will best be able to decide what matters to them by… never getting to practice that skill (but instead being exposed to lots of things that matter to you). I see no data to argue for this, and indeed find the idea pretty counter-intuitive.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article