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Our 19th-Century Curriculum

It’s time for more databases, fewer quadratic ­equations.

Oct 8, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 04 • By ANDY KESSLER
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Sciences: Biology is important, but too many high school curricula revolve around designing waste management plants and the biodiversity of rain forests. Even Darwin has been marginalized to less than a week. We need to get back to basics and add more genomics and DNA sequencing. Chemistry and physics are important disciplines. I’ve been told that any science with an adjective attached to its name is probably not a real science, but we should add useful tools for the mass of graduates that end up in sales and marketing. Behavioral science, psychology, organization science, decision theory, and, of course, statistics. Everybody hates statistics, thinking it the language of dull actuaries. But statistics and data are the core ingredients to how Facebook pages are arranged and Google search results are displayed and every web page looks and operates. No one guesses anymore.

Economics: So many important decisions are based on flaky economics. We need to teach students about the effect of interest rates, money supply, profits, and productivity on the economy. Instead, they are indoctrinated by economics textbooks that start out with some gobbledygook about marginal utility and end up with a Keynesian message that you can spend your way out of a recession. This is too important to leave to teachers not very good at math.

Changes need to start at universities and then trickle down to K-12, which follow college admission requirements. To keep U.S. education the envy of the world, our curriculum needs to be modernized. French and trigonometry and astronomy are no longer critical. The same computer science used by Khan Academy and Coursera and Udacity to change how education is delivered needs to be added to the curriculum as a core pillar of education for all students rather than remain a geeky backwater. If not, the number of unemployed bridge builders will continue to swell.

Andy Kessler, a former hedge-fund manager, is the author most recently of Eat People (Portfolio, 2011).

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