• Sarah

The dream high school curriculum to unfuck 2020


Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash


A friend asked me what high schools should teach to avoid or undo the current crisis in which we find ourselves. I think the ideal set of classes would look something like this:





📚 Focus on critical thinking and research skills, especially the ability to discern bias and validity of sources online. Also try to instill a love of learning by reading actual books.

💰 Financial literacy, including doing your own taxes, saving money, paying off your credit card bills, having a bank account, tracking your recurring subscriptions, using crypto, etc.

🏋️‍♂️ Instead of dumb physical fitness classics like kickball, teach self-defense, weightlifting, bodyweight strength, and cardio/endurance. Self-defense is useful and builds confidence, as does weight training. Bodyweight exercises are something you can do anywhere, without equipment, for the rest of your life. We should teach people how to be fit and strong.

📝 Teach writing and grammar, but less essay-style and more persuasive, concise, and researched-backed. We need fewer diatribes that start with “Since the beginning of history, humans have…” and more punchy statements that start with the point and back it up with evidence.

🎓 More public speaking and argument, including debates where people have to argue different sides of the same issue to learn about nuance and develop empathy.

💻 Far more technology focus, including programming, engineering, and using online resources to find whatever answers you lack in a current project.

🏕 Go on wilderness survival field trips (e.g., long hikes), which teach leadership, accountability, problem-solving, group dynamics, environmental appreciation, and broader existential thinking.

📈 Small business 101: how to start and run your own business, especially using the Internet: market research, building, testing, sales, marketing, operations, etc.

🌎 World and US history, with a neutral viewpoint to examine what went wrong and why, as well as what went right and why.

👩‍💻 Job shadowing of real people out in the world who are in highly sought-after careers.

🧪 The scientific method and basics of biology, chemistry, and more. It’s less important that students memorize the Krebs Cycle and more important that they understand the fundamentals of testing and refining hypotheses using evidence.

🧮 The basics of math, but don’t discourage calculators because people use them in the real world, and don’t force people to do advanced math like calculus if they don’t want to. Focus more on everyday math skills like understanding and evaluating statistics, or using spreadsheets to do math for you.

💊 Health class should have a comprehensive discussion of sex, not to vilify or discourage it, but to explain what healthy, satisfying sex looks like. Same with drugs and alcohol: explain what these substances actually do according to the research instead of just fear-mongering. Prepare for situations like substance dependencies or overdoses. Cover mental health in depth and without stigmatizing it, including warning signs and when to seek help.

🔐 Safety and security, mostly with a focus on cybersecurity: how online scams happen, how to recognize them, who is using your data in which ways, and how to have good digital hygiene so that your credit cards or personal information are less likely to be stolen (and what to do if they are).

🧠 Social psychology, including how to read other people, identifying common cognitive distortions, and how companies and individuals target you and prey on your fears so that you can better detect and respond to them.

😊 Self-awareness, including presenting a mix of psychology and personality models so that people can get to know themselves better and realize when they are acting impulsively or reflexively instead of thoughtfully. Delve into what it means to live a purposeful, satisfying, and meaningful life.

🏛 US government and law, especially as they relate to individuals: e.g., your rights when interacting with the police, during a protest, when voting, when dealing with a landlord, and other frequent occurances. Explain the balance of powers, founding principles like free speech, and why the constitution and its amendments matter.

💗 Passion projects as electives, where students get to delve deeply into any skill or knowledge area that attracts them.





It’s clear that a lot of the cultural disconnects we’re seeing today have their root in education (or the lack of it). What would be on your dream high school curriculum?

©2020 by Sarah Downey