The first lesson that should be drawn from an examination of the market: Fundamentals are important.
There has been a great shift in the content of the courses in public schools away from fundamentals, which are disparaged as "rote learning." Grammar is barely taught; it shocks many people when they realize that few high school students can define "adverb."
Here is how the private sector has responded:
- Kumon: Kumon started off teaching math in the Japanese style. Essentially, it is weapons-grade rote learning. Students get worksheets with repetitive math skills and have to get every question on the worksheet correct to move on to the next level worksheet. Sounds horrible? Well, the company makes almost a billion dollars a year.
- Eats, Shoots & Leaves: This book was a remarkable number one bestselling publishing phenomenon, and its subject was grammar and punctuation. Imagine getting in a time machine and telling Catholic school attending baby boomers that a book on grammar and punctuation is a future bestseller.
- Trivia night: Part of the curriculum shift was motivated by the idea, "History shouldn't be about memorizing pointless facts. Kids hate that." Bars all over the country have populated their slow nights with people trying to show off how many pointless facts they have memorized.
The shift away from fundamentals was motivated, of course, by good intentions. The problem is the either/or mentality of many changes in education. Pure fundamentals: bad. No fundamentals: bad.
Can't we meet somewhere in the middle?