What Do You Need To Know?

Marketing guru Seth Godin, author of Free Prize Inside, has been riffing on his blog about education standards and the kinds of things kids should know, which eventually equates to what marketers and business folk need to know. He starts by decrying the fact that his third grader is being taught how to write in cursive and not how to type. In another entry, he offers a list of 20 things everybody should learn by the time they graduate.

He has some interesting ideas, but I’m curious to hear from the educators in the audience:


Should typing replace cursive? Or has it already? (I suspect this varies by school. I was taught how to type in fifth grade and took further courses in middle school.) Is cursive a skill that should be taught today? And do children really need to be taught how to type? How many of them just pick it up and adapt?

Godin hints at a future where typing may not need to be taught, and I wonder if we’re already approaching that point. Should children be taught to type on a cell phone instead of a standard keyboard? Or are all these technical proficiencies really just surface issues?

I’m also intrigued by his list. I think most people have a grasp of a lot of things on this list, but it’s interesting seeing it in such a formal breakdown. It’s a very broad-based list, and the kinds of things that would help in the business world. It’s a liberal arts approach of sorts, but interesting being the college-educated chap I am that I don’t have a mastery of all 20 items.

Conversational Spanish. With the growing Hispanic population this one is pretty smart. Though in all my years of Spanish (which amounts to a whopping three) I never had the kind of practical application that would have made me want to learn the stuff. Dump me off in a Spanish barrio and make me fend for myself. Now that’s an education.

How to speak in front of a group. Most kids dread this, and I certainly did. I wish schools could find a way to get kids to deal with this fear. Not necessarily overcome it, because I don’t know if that’s possible, but to at least confront their fear of it and learn how to do a decent job at it. I still dread this, but wish I had more chances as a kid to overcome it–not just being thrown in front of a group and forced to speak, but actually get some help in learning how to do it. Maybe I should have joined Forensics instead of Radio.

How to run a small business. Sheesh, that’s a goldmine.

I also like his emphasis on history and world culture: The most important lessons from American history. What the world’s religions have in common. The most important lessons from ten other world cultures and their history. Understanding the biograhies of 500 important historical figures and 200 fictional ones. Some are more practical than others (what are the most important lessons from American history? I know American history passably, but I don’t know if I could give you the lessons), but I like the idea here.

Basically we should know some basic stuff. If someone talks about Lennin or Churchill or Machiaveli or whoever we should know who those people are. I love that kind of basic biography stuff that gives you a broad overview. If you’re interested you can go deeper, but it allows you to know some basics of a lot of people. Sadly, many of us have a very Western-biased understanding of history. I could tell you about all sorts of American and European historical figures and give you the history of the Western world for the past 2,000 years; but ask me about anything else and I’m lost. China? Japan? India? South America? Africa? I got nothin’.

Makes me wish I could read a broad-based book on each of the subjects. Or maybe I should write one. If anyone’s interested in commissioning me, I’ll happily do it.

While I’m at it, it seems like there could be a similar thing for pop culture. I’d love a primer of rock and roll that could introduce me to every rock band I’ve completely missed. Of course it’d have to be a book that isn’t pretentious and doesn’t make me feel stupid for not recognizing the Who.

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