I've had a book on my shelf for a couple months after discovering it on the reading list for the HGSE/Project Zero course Teaching for Understanding: Educating for the Unknown. Taking advantage of the long weekend, I decided to jump into Future Wise: Educating Our Children For A Changing World by David N. Perkins. As I'm writing this, I've still got two chapters to go, but I can't wait to finish it.

Here's a peek from very early on in the book:

... [W]e also need to recognize a weirdness in formal education today that goes back to the uppity question. The lifeworthiness of the multitudinous facts and ideas in the typical curriculum is spotty. It seems not to have been thought through very carefully.

The future mind-set goes something like this: "These are the things good to know. After all, they are there in the textbooks, and someone put them in the textbooks for some reason." So most educational initiatives focus on signs of short-term success: doing well on assignments and scoring well on tests in the course of the school year, without much thinking about the long-term return on investment.

A more sophisticated defense of at least some conventional education would go something like this: "These ideas are fundamental to our understanding of the world; they figure centrally in science, history, mathematics, literature." That's certainly better than "someone put them in the textbooks." However, what if many of these ideas, central though they might be to particular disciplines of professions, hardly ever come up in significant ways in the lives most learners are likely to live? Are they truly worth learning?

It depends on what we mean by worth. Maybe they are worth learning in some intrinsic sense, that is, good to know in principle. But that answer works only if they stay known. The hard fact is that our minds hold on only to knowledge we have occasion to use in some corner of our lives – personal, artistic, civic, something else. Overwhelmingly knowledge unused it forgotten. It's gone. Whatever its intrinsic value might be, it can't be lifeworthy unless it's there.

Maybe we need to get beyond a presumptive "good to know." Knowledge is good to know only if there are occasions that call on it and keep it alive and available. To be worth knowing, knowledge has to go somewhere."

Are quadratic equations big in insight, options, ethics, or opportunity? Is mitosis? How might Socratic questioning simultaneously be one of the most and least powerful ways of facilitating learning? What's the difference between descriptive geography and causal geography? More importantly, why are big questions and big understandings so important?

This book is fantastic. Book club, anyone?