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Is your curriculum harming your students?

What if I tell you that a big portion of what you believe to be true is false?

Moreover, you teach your students these false “facts” and information as the truth.

I am not saying you are doing this on purpose. Absolutely not.

However, you need to be aware that this is happening so you can do something about it.

It all started a few days back when I looked at the information my son is learning about healthy eating habits at school.

He received a small poster, which the department of education printed, titled “Australian Guide to Healthy Eating”.

This document contains a pie chart with the food groups you should eat and how much of each group you should include in your diet.

The five food groups in this guide are – vegetables and legumes, grain, protein, dairy and fruit.

Australian guide to healthy eating. We teach our students inaccurate and sometimes false information. It is time to evolve our education system and focus on teaching our children how to think.
Australian guide to healthy eating

Quite a lot of information there is presented as the “truth” but isn’t so anymore.

The first thought that went through my mind as I was digesting the information on this poster was –

where is the fats group?

I don’t know how you feel about fats, but as humans, we have a long history of love/hate relationships with this food group.

At first, we were happy whenever we could eat them. We craved fats and knew they were crucial for our survival.

Then, at some point, we started a witch hunt against them.

We demonised fats, replaced natural, good fats with man-made ones, and started doing all we could to reduce the amount of fat in our foods.

We were so panicked that we created replacements for natural fats, such as trans fats, which can be found in margarine, for example, and hydrogenated oils, which damage your health. And then, we added these horrible fats to almost any processed food you can think of.

Fats became a terrifying word.

Then, at some point, we came back a full circle. We realised that fats (The natural ones from nuts, seeds, olives etc.) are good for us. Furthermore, we discovered that fats are essential to a healthy diet. And also, science found out that our brain is crazy about fat (Did you know that 60% of your brain is made of fat?), and when it doesn’t get the dose it needs, the results can be catastrophic - your cognitive functions will decline, your emotional state will take a downfall, your behaviour will be negatively impacted, and your body will get sick.

And so, scientists were suddenly hailing the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil fat. Avocados rose to stardom, as their fat keeps us healthy. And the same happened with the fats in nuts and seeds.

As you can see in the image below, Australia’s curriculum presents fats not as an essential food group that should be part of a healthy diet but as something you need to reduce as much as you can from your diet. They also place margarine, vegetable oils and olive oils in the same group, which paints a wrong picture of the importance of olive oil and its place in our diet.

As per the Australian government, olive oil is grouped with bad fats that are bad for your health.  We teach our children false information. It is time to focus on teaching our children how to think instead of memorising "facts" and "information" which might be incorrect
Olive oil grouped with bad fats

The reality is that what we believe to be true is changing quickly. Every day science discovers that something we thought to be a “fact” is incorrect. And as our understanding of the world progresses quickly, we need to unlearn “facts” and “information” that we thought to be accurate and learn and relearn new information.

But the truth is that we all struggle to keep up. Actually, I don’t think we can keep up with the fast pace of changes in our collective understanding and knowledge.

Wait. It gets worse

Did you know it takes universities a few years to develop content for a new course?

And it is the same for the department of education.

Therefore, the new curriculum is already inaccurate and outdated by the time they finish working on it.

If you are raising your eyebrows now, wait until you get to read the implications of this issue for all of us.

Are you ready for it?

A couple of days after being confronted by the outdated nutritional information children learn at school today, I listened to a podcast where Andrew Huberman, a Professor and Neuroscientist at Stanford University, interviewed Rick Rubin. It was a fantastic discussion on creativity, art, life experiences, health and happiness.

However, one thing in this conversation aligned perfectly with my thoughts about teaching false information.

(You can watch this interview here. If you want to listen to the part I mentioned, jump to 34 minutes into the video)

At some point in their discussion, Huberman referred to a discussion Rick Rubin had with Eddie Chang.

Edward Chang is a neurosurgeon, professor, and chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. He specialises in advanced brain mapping methods to preserve crucial areas for speech and motor functions in the brain.

As it turns out, Rick Rubin asked Eddie this question -

If you went to medical school today, what percentage of the text in the medical books is accurate and what is not?

Eddie’s reply was shocking – Maybe half is accurate.”

So Rick, probably as shocked as I have been by this answer, asked the required follow-up question – And what is the consequence of this?

And Chang answered – Incalculable.”

Think about all the medical doctors who base their medical analysis and decisions on inaccurate information they learned at medical school.

Will you feel comfortable being treated by someone who more than half of what they learnt is irrelevant?

Next time you see a doctor, consider that their opinions and decisions might be based on “facts” and information that are no longer true.

A day later, I listened to another Rick Rubin interview, this time by Dr Rangan Chatterjee.

(You can watch this interview here.)

Rangan is a medical doctor, and during his discussion with Rick, he said - I have been a doctor for 21 years now, and the more patients I see, the more I realise how much I don’t know. And some of the best doctors I know share the same view.

So if we don’t know much, and if the current information, the things we believe to be true today, might be false tomorrow, what does it mean for our education system?

What does it mean for our approach to teaching?

Do we still need to focus our energy and time on asking our students to memorise facts?

Or should we spend most of our energy and effort helping children develop their thinking skills?

Should we teach our children to accept what we say as the truth?

Or should we teach them to question what they hear and read, apply critical thinking and explore different possibilities?

We still approach education as a way to create obedient citizens who don’t question what they are told. Most of the time, we expect our students to accept everything they learn as the truth.

At what cost?

Can we afford to bury our heads in the sand and pretend our education system doesn’t need to evolve?

What do you think?

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