Evanston RoundTable, March 9, 2017
Schools do a good job teaching the basics – history and civics and science and the famous Three R’s: reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic.
But those subjects have been school staples for 200 years, and given our current messy state of affairs, it may be time to consider a bit of a revamp.
So herewith is a modest proposal to add Four E’s to our educational curricula.
Ethics. Knowing the difference between right and wrong has been taught for millennia. Plato’s “Ethics” dates back some 2,300 years. And yet schools may be reluctant to grapple with issues that seem more appropriate being taught in the home. That is too bad, because the fundamentals of ethics and right behavior – the values enshrined in the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, Buddhist and other spiritual teachings, respect for others, the worth and necessity of honesty, the importance of work and even a good work ethic – are critical to a healthy society. There is a world of classroom discussion opportunities in considering right from wrong and the many gray areas in between.
Economics. We live in a society fueled by commerce. And yet most children, teens, even college graduates don’t know the first thing about how our economy works. Everyone could benefit from knowing the basics of financial literacy, the value of work and saving, the mechanics of the stock market, and the principles of supply and demand, elasticity of pricing, diminishing returns, and other laws of economics.
Eating. Since 1980, childhood obesity has tripled, which amounts to a national emergency. The value of knowing and practicing good nutritional behavior is inestimable. If our goal is to create healthy kids, we must teach them the dangers of processed and junk foods, sugar, and bad fats as well as destructive habits like inactivity, smoking, and drugs. Promoting good nutritional and lifestyle habits is a mainstay to a long, active, and productive life. Eating is about living, so teaching good dietary practices means a great deal more than just controlling weight.
Exercise. All the good habits and knowledge above will not mean much if children do not know or care about proper exercise. Sure, schools have recess and Phys Ed. But there is so much more: establishing daily exercise regimens, learning proper balance and posture, studying Yoga, and knowing the basics of body chemistry, to name a few.
Enlightenment. There is a fifth “E” as well, though it may seem like an outlier. But just because we have the tools to lead a good life does not mean we know the path. Training in meditation and spirituality, as well as such necessities as decorum, grace, etiquette, and character, can help young people cope with life’s inevitable challenges and tensions. And music and art, among the fundamental virtues of our civilization, should always be part of the school curricula.
To some extent, these subjects are already addressed in our schools. Economics is included in some Social Studies classes and nutrition and exercise are taught in P.E. The new peace and sharing circles being introduced in District 65 target social and emotional issues. Ethics and right behavior are addressed in various classes and programs. That is a good start, but more is needed. Teaching these important topics rigorously and systematically, at every level, will have enormous value by helping develop exceptional, enriched, and fully educated young people.