I dream of one day founding a school designed to be of the highest order in terms of practicality and utility in the world, but also of deep personal discovery and true learning in the highest, broadest sense of the word. It would probably require a significant amount of grant money, because it would not deny any student for lack of funds. The only requirement would be that students would be screened according to their passion for learning and growth above all else through interviews, essays, surveys, references, and review of past work.
This would be mostly because a major aspect of the school would be the freedom of self-learning. Where a teacher does not exist to teach a subject, if there be interest, the students may teach themselves through the careful but uninhibiting guidance of a study adviser, who would be trained in how and where to find information.
Most areas of study would be tested for college credit, and at the end of the 4 years of school, each student would possess a Bachelor’s degree. But this would not be an ordinary college, because it would not require a high school diploma, or equivalent. It would only require students who have a base-level aptitude of at least 8th grade. Too often we underestimate the abilities of teenagers, but if the seed of learning is nurtured with passion, confidence, and freedom, a new adolescent has the same or greater capacities as a hardened adult. Maths, from pre-algebra to topology, multivariable differential calculus, number theory, and the like, could be taught in only a year if done right. Once there is both confidence and passion, it is easily done. The same applies to language. Every student could leave this school speaking half a dozen languages. These statements are not baseless. They have been tested by many individuals throughout the world: Tim Ferriss, Benny Lewis (of fluentin3months.com), pursuers of the DIY degree, many geniuses (who, more than IQ, are gifted with immense confidence and passion for education), and to an extent, myself, not to mention countless others, and these were just the examples i know of most readily.
To have such an almost unbelievable curriculum requires a core of study which begins at the utter foundation of education and then branches off from there. The core foundation of any educational venture is without a doubt, the most important. I think the ideal core of linguistics, maths, and the arts (which are the three essential means of representing or communicating information) as well as logic/critical thinking/philosophy and health/wellness/identity. These afford the most essential understanding of how to utilize language, form arguments, reach conclusions, think rationally, embrace creativity and culture, take care of one’s mind and body, and to find/develop one’s identity. The second tier of basic courses would open the individual to an understanding of humankind and nature: world history, world religions, the natural sciences, social sciences (psychology, sociology, economics), and foreign languages.
Linguistics: Rather than study arbitrary rules of English grammar which are always disjointed and out of context, linguistics should be taught as the foundation of language itself. This bridges what we often call “English class” with the “Foreign language classes,” and does so in a way which makes them relevant to a larger whole: understanding human communication–which underlies the entirety of education; the communication and acquisition of knowledge. This would be required for the first two years.
Maths: This will begin with a study of basic number theory and an overview of just what math is and what it does. Rarely is this ever explained in schools at any level, except by the most passionate teachers. Algebra (including functions), Geometry/Trigonometry, Calculus, Linear Algebra, and at least a cursory knowledge of differential equations, topology, and complexity theory will be covered over the span of about a year, ideally, though of course everything will be paced to the individuals. If the core concepts, aims, and structures of each branch is explained clearly enough (in other words, the foundation is firmly established), it really ought not to take so long to learn math well.
Arts: As stated, art is one of the three basic means of communicating information. It includes not just 2 and 3-dimensional visual arts, but kinetic (dance, theater, etc.), auditory (music), linguistic (literature), and culinary arts as well. By placing the study of art into this context, alongside math and language, a very full capacity of communicating information through symbolic representation manifests, and with it emerges a true scholar. The arts would, at this core level, be covered very broadly and generally, so that creativity as a whole can be understood in its relevance to humankind and the individual student. The philosophy of aesthetics will be explored to increase appreciation of all arts.. This course would be required for the first two years, and highly encouraged for all four.
Logic/Critical Thinking/Philosophy: This is the basis of all rational thought, which is essential to any level of true academia. It allows for a clearer vision of the world. Arguments of any subject may be broken down and understood, and fallacies recognized in literature or in casual debate. It allows for perspicacity and clearer thought, which in turn becomes greater self-knowledge. Lastly, it will serve as a sort of glue, where all the other subjects can be discussed together and in relation to one another, where they haven’t already done so. This course will be required for the first two years at least, but will be highly encouraged for all four.
Health/Wellness/Identity: Both Allopathic and Naturopathic medicines will be discussed in depth, along with diseases of the body and mind, and the importance of mental well-being. The anatomy portion will relate to the natural sciences, while the mental health aspect will relate to the social sciences course. A large unit will be done on the nature of happiness/contentment, and its central role in our lives and the curriculum of the school. Meditation (non-religion-specific)will be taught and practiced. This course will also cover self-exploration and identity formation around spirituality, sports, games, and the like. No person will be forced to explore spirituality or sports against their will; these are mere possibilities. Instead the goal will be around helping the student embrace those pleasures, joys, and passions which reinforce their sense of identity. The role of health, wellness, and identity, upon the learning process is paramount. Without any one, the learning process is stifled, even to the point of being prevented altogether. This course would be required for all four years.
World History: Human history would be covered without over-concentration on any particular area, culture, or time-period, beginning from the evolutionary dawn of man to the present day, all over the planet. This course would actually combine history with anthropology to give the fullest picture of mankind’s place in the world and the development that took place in getting there. This, like everything else, would ensure a strong foundation, in understanding the meaning of history in general, as well as a very broad outline of human history, gradually increasing in specificity. This would be required for at least one year.
World Religions: Few things make as significant a difference to one’s understanding of the thinking and behavior of humanity, of history, of elements of culture and the arts, of the world, and of oneself as religion. Such a course would span two years and provide extensive opportunities to practice various faiths, and meet clergy and mystics of each faith.
Natural Sciences: These would be taught as a whole. Physics, chemistry, biology, as well as some geology, meteorology, engineering, and computer science. Each branch will relate to the others in piecing together a picture of what reality is and how it works. Metaphysics and epistemology, too, will be brought into the mix. As such, this course will be closely linked to the philosophy–in addition to math–courses. The goal will be understanding the totality of nature, at a broad, conceptual level. These would span a minimum of the first two years.
Social Sciences: These would include sociology, psychology, economics, and politics, predominantly. Any scientific study concerning the nature and operations of humanity at the social or individual level, regarding behaviors, speech, and thought. It’s important to teach these subjects together–as they relate strongly to one-another (in fact they permeate each other)–so that the knowledge is more comprehensive and useful in the real world or in academia. These would be required for the first two years, and at least a total of three years.
Foreign Languages: Students would be encouraged to learn a different foreign language each year, for the importance they have on overall intelligence, ability to utilize language in general, practical value in life, and connection to the world. Ideally each of those languages would be from a different language family; for instance: German, Russian, Arabic, and Sanskrit. Or Spanish, Navajo, Japanese, and Greek. One should be non-Indo-European, one should be a classical language, and one should be an official language of the UN (Arabic is the only language which would satisfy all three of these). For each language studied, the end result will be a proficiency test, which alone should give the student vast career opportunities.
I dream that all study in this school lead to college credit to go towards a degree or else be transferable to another institution, so that it holds direct, practical value in today’s world where a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, integrity and creativity, will alone often not be enough. Beyond these core courses, which after the first two years, should take up a very small portion of the student’s time, time will be spent on specialization in whatever field of study or self-exploration the student chooses. By the time of graduation, the student should possess an impressive portfolio of creative or academic work, should be published, and should have an array of credentials/certifications. Every subject can be tested out of, and so no class is mandatory to attend. Free time will be encouraged. Everyone can go at their own pace. Independent studies should account for at least a third (ideally one half) of all courses of study taken by students. The beauty of this model is that it highlights all the most important aspects of learning: passion, independence freedom, and confidence. It is applicable to virtually any age group from adolescence, up; with a little tweaking it would even be suitable for pre-adolescent school children. I hope one day i can receive the necessary support to make my dream a reality.
If you have ideas or opinions regarding this model curriculum or the failure of existing systems of education, please comment!