Thinking Citizen Blog — I Got Things Backwards for 10 Years! Never Too Late to Fix a Mistake!

Thinking Citizen Blog — Friday is Education and Education Policy Day

Today’s Topic: I got things backwards for 10 years! Never too late to fix a mistake!

When I started the Liberal Arts Blog in 2011, I started the weekly routine with the three most important subjects: math (Monday), literature (Tuesday) and science (Wednesday). In 2017 when I put together a graphic guide to the Liberal arts, those three subjects were again prioritized as the top three lobes of the oak leaf of the seven joys of the liberal arts. The least important three were at the bottom — art, music, and, sports. Last week, I realized I got the order precisely backwards. The lowliest of the low (sports — encompassing dance, movement, fitness) should replace the highest of the high (the “joy of words” in the 2017 graphic — see the first link below). This change is a big deal with colossal implications for federal education policy. Today, the tip of the iceberg — three big points. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. The focus should be on the basics.

2. The basics involve math and physics.

3. To master the basics you must write about them to digest them.

NB: The paradox is simple: the best way to have kids internalize the most important concepts in science and writing is to have them learn them in the context of something they love to do — at an early an age as possible.


1. But models exist.

2. In art: Betty Edwards — of “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” fame. Elementary school should have as its artistic capstone a portfolio of a still life, a landscape, a portrait, and a self-portrait in perspective.

3. In music: Scott Houston, “The Piano Guy.” Elementary school should have as its musical end-point a performance of a twelve bar blues composed by the student or its equivalent.

NB: In sports, Tim Galwey. Elementary school should have as its physical endpoint the equivalent physical endpoint one of the following or their equivalent: a ten-minute mile, a fifty stroke rally in tennis, a one mile swim, a dance performance of comparable technical difficulty.


1. The Romans got it and the Greeks before them. A healthy mind in a health body.

2. To not have a rigorous physical training program in every public school in America is one of the greatest tragedies and structural inequities in the American educational system.

3. It is also probably the one easiest to fix.

NB: But it’s not even on the table. Joe, are you listening? Apparently not.

CONCLUSION — the core and the periphery, the mandatory and the optional

1. Physical education is the first thing that is cut in a budget crunch. It should be the last.

2. If you can’t tell the difference between the core and the periphery, serious consequences will ensue.

3. If you don’t know the center from the periphery, can you possibly make a rational decision as to what should be required and what need not be?

NB: To get an intuitive feel for any subject, sooner is better. Remember the Heckman curve and the declining return on investment as the student advances from Kindergarten to graduation. Parental and teacher training are the keys to a brighter future for all children. And, yes, science, math, and english teachers are in as desperate need of re-training as are teachers of sports, dance, music. and art. But for that you need a total re-framing of the educational issue. It’s not about money and it’s not about choice. It’s about the curriculum — it’s about what to teach and how to teach it. Enough for now.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Scott Houston (musician)

Timothy Gallwey


Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to education or education policy. Or the coolest thought however half-baked you had. Or the coolest, most important thing you learned in your life related to education or education policy that the rest of us may have missed. Or just some random education-related fact that blew you away.

This is your chance to make some one’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something that is dear to your heart.



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