What Else Should Be Mandatory? 10 Ideas for Better Schools

What if school were a place where we practiced what we’re taught? Instead of learning stuff just to memorize it, what if we made stuff out of the stuff we learned? Stuff we could show our parents, proving to them that their tax dollars are actually improving society?

What if we used our English skills to write blogs and essays and articles not stuck behind the barbed wire of academia? What if we used our public speaking skills to engage in meaningful conversations?

And what if school were a place where we could practice being less offended by opposing viewpoints, and instead worked to embrace mental fortitude and patience with those who see things differently?

We already have algebra and historical facts that everyone forgets after the test is over. Is there anything else that should be mandatory to learn in school?

That depends on what kind of people we want to be. Depends on what kind of people we want to be around.

Do we want more cogs? Do we want more busybodies? Do we want more people stuck in jobs they hate because all they learned to do was to comply? Do we want more people clinging to insecurities, becoming 40-year-old bullies disguised as bosses? I hope not. I hope the schools of today are fostering individuals capable of self-reliance, empathy, kindness, love, and strength.

There’s a few things that I think should be mandatory to learn at school. Along with the other mandatory stuff.

But of course, ‘mandatory teaching’ scares us because mandatory sounds scary. It sounds enforced, policed, Orwellian. But if we look at the school system today, much of what’s taught is mandatory, and much of what’s taught teaches students to comply instead of applying what they’ve learned, to lower their hands instead of raising their hands to ask better questions.

Which is why the first item on this list is…

  1. Asking interesting questions and challenging the status quo. Not by setting things on fire, but working to understand how people work together, why systems exist and how to improve them.
  2. Debate. Coming up with a strong argument, seeing the other point of view, and exposing oneself to ideas and beliefs antithetical to their own. More intellectual sparring rings, reasonably moderated. Less bounce houses for minds prone to disintegration from the slightest provocation.
  3. Personal finance. We know how to make money, but do we know where to put it?
  4. Meditation. This might help with the bullying problem. Teach everyone how to meditate, and a lot of kids (and adults) won’t be so afraid of going to school everyday.
  5. Coding. This might help with the ‘why do I need to know math?’ problem..
  6. Making media/podcasts/blogs. Might help with the ‘why do I need to know English?’ problem..
  7. Public speaking. Not to cajole people, but to connect people to a good cause, at scale. To tell better stories. To make a wider, more meaningful impact.
  8. Media literacy. Might help with the ‘vaccines cause flat earth’ problem..
  9. Statistical literacy. Join the 99th percentile of people who understand that correlation isn’t causation.
  10. Entrepreneurship and innovation. Teach students to distinguish between crony capitalism and useful capitalism. A class that challenges students to do what every ethical entrepreneur does for a living: solve problems for people.

And while we’re at it, three books for required reading:

  1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  2. Modern Man in Search of A Soul by Carl Jung. This is the most accessible yet penetrating book on psychology ever written.
  3. 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam, for those that think there aren’t enough hours in the day.
  4. And a book that prepares you for college and beyond better than any book I’ve read, Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

School is useful. I don’t think we should get rid of it. But it does need to be improved. Not by adding more metrics and exams and pricey textbooks. But by adapting a project-first mentality. Because projects matter. Innovation runs society. The robots are already here and they can memorize stuff a lot better than we can.

No one ever says we need to memorize the world a better place – they say we need to make the world a better place.

It’s up to us – to you and me – to make the world a better place.

As my favorite writer Seth Godin says, toward better.

Cheers to your good health,


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