What Must Our Children Know?

I didn’t mean to turn the previous post into a discussion about the state of education, but the ensuing conversation headed that way.

Particularly, my friend Laurie had a very pointed observation about what knowledge must be instilled in our children, even if you have to force them to. Here’s what she said:

Should students be required to learn things they don’t want to learn. Absolutely. For one thing, many students would pass on learning things that are the foundations for other later learning.

What if your child didn’t want to learn to read? Would you make her anyway? You bet.

How may of us had toddlers that didn’t want to learn to use the potty? Well I’m thinking there comes a day when the partents don’t really care if their child doesn’t want to learn. They are learning. It might be that you make them want to learn by having them wipe their own poop off thier bottom, but you are still forcing them.

Kids need to learn how to persevere through things that are not what they would choose. How often have we persevered though filling out our income tax forms? Always having choice is not real world.

Kids need to learn to tolerate being uncomfortable, having to do some things they don’t want to do, learn things they don’t want to learn, persevere, be bored. To allow them a pass everytime is setting them up to be dysfunctional adults.

If your boss asked you to learn a new software for your job, can you say no thank you can keep your job?

(Paragraph breaks are mine, purely for readability)

Today, instead of getting up on my soapbox and preaching what I believe, I want to invite you to answer this question for yourself.

What must our children know?

What knowledge is so important that we have to force it to them, even over their objections and lack of interest?

I do have my own answer to these questions, but I’ll post them later in a follow-up. I am very much looking forward to reading what everybody else has to say. Whether I agree with what you have to say or not, I think it will make me think and either solidify or modify my beliefs.

There are many parents and teacher-types in my readership, and I think virtually everybody conscientious is concerned about the state of education.

So please take a moment to ponder this and jot down your answer here.

I really don’t think I have to tell my readers to be civil, do I? We have some of the most mature, thoughtful and conscientious people here on this site. It is a safe environment for saying what is on your mind.

One hint: I think the question is not whether it’s right to force children to learn or not.

So — fire away! 🙂


  1. Hi Ari – I always thought it was important for kids, aside from regular book learning, to know how to walk into a room where they might not know anyone and strike up a friendly conversation. Or how to be a good dinner party or weekend guest. To stand up when a grownup enters the room. To offer a chair or an arm. In short, the social niceties that are often overlooked but that serve so well, especially if one tends to be shy.

    Betsy´s last blog post..OUTSIDE, SEEING

    1. Betsy —

      Thanks for your comment! I agree that social manners are something that’s really not an option, but a must for kids. And in the beginning, they can’t tell when they have to put on the good, social face and when they don’t have to — so you end up enforcing it all the time.

      It’s easier to start being strict, and then loosen up the grip. 😉


  2. What must our children know?
    That is a great question Ari!

    I think Betsy was on to something with her comment.
    I would add (which Betsy hinted at, but didn’t say directly): Respect.

    Also, to recap my comment on your last post: How to succeed at anything in life no matter what you do.

    Leadership skills
    A positive attitude and how to look at the good in everything.
    A never quit mindset
    Unconditional love
    How to squash fear
    Happiness comes from within

    That’s what comes to mind right off anyway. This list could go on, but I’ll leave that for others.

    Jennifer´s last blog post..I’m a Star!

  3. I think a strong basic education is a must. If a teacher is passionate enough, even the most boring subject will be interesting ….so I say we have our kids learn anything they do from the most passionate of people. Specifically, I think Math, reading and music are of special value. But kids should be taught the basics of everything – since knowing a little is what invokes their curiosities to know more ….and take them on their path of self-learning.

    Maya´s last blog post..The key to happiness and balance is right with you, just learn to use it – Part 1 of the thinkmaya framework

    1. Maya,

      Literacy and basic math is a foundation to everything, isn’t it? Though I’m surprised and flattered that you put music up there with it. Music is the air I breathe, but I’ve never been sure if everybody else thought that. My daughter, for example, is very much into crafts and visual art right now. She likes music, too, but doesn’t compare to her love of making pretty things.


    1. Hi Avani,

      Managing money is something I wish my parents taught me. Growing up, my parents never told us exactly how much my father made and how they were managing it. To this day, I have no clue. Everything about money I had to learn on my own, and I’ve made some expensive lessons. Not something I want to repeat to my children.


  4. For me I think the best way to teach our children is through what we ourselves do and what we are. Yes, children often pick up from their parents in many cases. I dont think it is about forcing them to learn something, somehow the sound of that word does not go well with me.The moment you have to force someone you are resisting them, you are supressing them and supressing their creativity. I would like my children to have the freedom to be who they are and be as creative as they want. For example teaching a child leadership skills when they are into dancing is going against their very self. Is there anything wrong with being a dancer? I dont think so. The danger of wanting to force children to conform to what we think is right is that we force them to lose their creativity and suppress their talent.
    It seems wanting to force children is setting yourself for resistance and a tug of war with your children. You can only guide them, lead by example and ultimately they will have the freedom to choose who they want to be. What if we have something to learn from them. Their unique in their own right, beautiful in their own way and rich in creativity. Yes we need to give them guidance, but is it not equally important that we prepare ourselves to learn from them?

    sharon´s last blog post..Gregg Braden- Heroes of Healing

    1. Hi Sharon,

      I agree that forcing children to do anything doesn’t sound very good — but as a parent myself, I can tell you that I do, and there are some things I do. In a future post I’ll share how my wife and I are going about it — I think it’ll make more sense to you once I explain myself better. 😉

      But yes, at the bottom, this much is true: forcing is not ideal, and is to be avoided if at all possible.


  5. Our children must know that we parents need our sleep Godammit!

    😉 sorry – just being smart-arse but my serious answer is “consequences, consequences, consequences”. And self-respect.

    The second can be modeled and instilled I am sure but whether they listen to the second or not remains to be seen. I didn’t (and now I live with the consequences! Aaagh!)

    Seamus Anthony´s last blog post..5 Great Reasons to Stop Working and Just Read Stuff Instead

  6. Our church teaches a different virtue every month. Respect, knowledge, kindness, honesty, love, courage, etc. I believe these virtue are essential for children. I quiz my kids all month long on the definition of that month’s virtue and discuss examples.

    I think we take for granted that children will be able to figure out what love and respect are simply by context.

    Jamie Simmerman´s last blog post..Picking the Brain of Naomi Dunford

  7. Interesting comments on this question.

    I belive that kids must learn who they are as people.

    I believe kids must learn to question. Question what is going on in the world around them whether it be nature or community. Only by questioning their world can they learn about it and keep some of it in check. Only by questioning themselves can they grow.

    I believe kids need to learn to problem solve.

    The trick is that in order to do the above list, kids must know the basics.

    1. Hey Laurie,

      Well, I think people answered it from multiple angles. Some focused more on what we want to pass on to our children, while others wrestled with the forcing aspect. All very valid points.

      I agree with everything you said. I am a big believer in questioning and problem-solving as well. 🙂 I like teachers and mentors who do more asking than telling. We’re more engaged when we’re trying to answer or solve something.


    1. Kristi,

      Now, that sounds like it comes from a personal experience. 😉

      It is rather surprising how much real life stuff is missing from formal education, isn’t it? But then, at med school or law school, I think they just teach their subject matters — if you plan to start your own law practice, you’ll have to get your small business skills elsewhere. But wouldn’t it make sense to have that resource available at schools?


  8. Hey Ari! I have been over here to visit but I haven’t had the time to comment lately. I have been busy teaching values. Really. I am trying to teach my children that the computer is not their best friend. I have to be the example. Right? I have tried that late night “visiting” with my blog friends but I don’t seem handle it the next day. So, for now I have settled on a balance of reading and absorbing all you have to share. It is a lot. Then I come back when I can grab a “me” moment.

    After raising my little brother, my niece, two step children and now my own…I have learned that we must teach them everything we can possible fit in. My children learn at school and I sometimes reteach at home. I stay on top of the grades, etc. I am cutting the ropes a bit with my teen but I think I have given him a good foundation. Some things do not come naturally to children and some things do. I think for each child it is different. I chose early on to “expose” my children to music, sports, art, and anything I could possibly find to fill voids in their life. Some voids are good but I feel that “inspiration” is very needed in children. Just that little push.

    So far, I have made it to 14 with my oldest son. He loves music, sports, school…but I have failed to touch on spiritual growth as much as I should have. I am not just talking about “God” but the connection with himself. We are working on this. I think I could start an entire blog on this alone.

    Well, as you can see I had a great deal to say. I must move along to read what you have written while I have been gone.

    You are a wonderful person, writer and soul.

    Tammy Warren´s last blog post..My Attentive Heart…do you have one?

    1. Hi Tammy,

      You raised your brother and your niece? Wow. You sound like a professional mother. 😉

      And yes, I can see where they need a little push — it’s very important for them to have the experience of following through on things. The joy of growth pain. 😉

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you come to visit me. 🙂


  9. Pingback: Our Best Version | What I Force My Children to Learn, Or Not

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