Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Passion Curriculum

A few days ago, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was on Jon
Stewart's Daily Show. He talked about how Congress had failed to
achieve the requirements of the "No Child Left Behind" Act, and how
states could now seek waivers to NCLB in order to give them more
flexibility to meet high educational standards.

He went on to decry the cutbacks of many programs in the schools, such
as arts and music, language, geography, social sciences, and so
forth. He spoke on behalf of "the Well-Rounded Curriculum."

This made me reflect on my own education and that of my fellow geeks.
Our country is facing a crisis shortage of geeks. At least a million
technical jobs are begging for qualified applicants. But fewer
students feel inclined to study math and science, and they are less
willing to put in the oftentimes long hours of drudgery to excel in a
technical area. They are less resilient and more resigned to failure
if the going gets tough.

In previous posts on this blog, I've identified some actions in the
college and working world where geeks can be encouraged to be more
well-rounded, thus contributing more to society.

But maybe we should back up further, to grade and middle school, to
look at what leads to the successful geek and, better yet, the
well-rounded geek.

Unfortunately, middle school can be hell on earth, both for geeks and
non-geeks alike. Puberty and scholarly rigor both strike
simultaneously. But what doesn't actually kill us makes us stronger,
as the old saying goes.

What middle school should do for us is to teach us how to find our
passions and show us a path toward achieving them. Sampling the
liberal and other arts may sow the seed of a passion.

That passion may open a path that looks impossibily steep when you're
14 years old. Do you like music? A typical musician in the Cincinnati
Orchestra has worked for 15 years to hone his or her skills and
theoretical knowledge of music, an amazingly complex and deep subject.

Just take it one step at a time. Yes, we are coming to realize we are
facing a world where everyone has to become a specialist in a
technical field. And even then there is no guarantee of a good paying
job. But your efforts will pay off in providing you a rich inner life.

This is where being well rounded will save your life. While you work
hard and fight for the job of your dreams, you will have the
resiliency you got from your well-rounded curriculum to get you by. If
you get out of middle school without identifying at least one passion
you can get lost in, your teachers have failed you. You need that
experience in order to be able to identify the next passion in life as
it comes along.

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