The problem you run into when designing a curriculum is that you have to decide what you want students to learn.

The problem with deciding what you want students to learn is that your decisions will inevitably end up being a reflection of your values. It isn’t a task that can be done objectively.

Do you prioritize STEM topics, hoping to increase the high-tech work force?

Do you go for an education in the classics, because that’s how the aristocrats did it?

Do you focus on art and music, because something something creativity and expression?

Should school life be regimented and strictly scheduled, as public schools currently are, or ad hoc and personalized?

It’s difficult to claim that these questions even have “right” answers, whatever “right” means in this context.

Thus the curriculum that I envision will inevitably be a reflection of what I believe and what I value. Take it as you will.

Matriculation and Grading

Before we get into the subjects students learn, it’s worth asking: how do students matriculate?

The Existing System

In the current American public school system, grading is done with letters representing percentages. An A represents a 90%, a B represents an 80%, and so on. A passing grade is usually a D (60%) although it can instead be a C (70%).

Matriculation - when a student advances in a grade or subject level - happens when the student gets a passing grade in the class.

Grade retention - a misleadingly polite term for being held back - can happen in grades K-6 when a student is failing in most subjects. In grades 7-12, it generally happens on a per-subject basis. The most common reason students are held back, however, is chronic absenteeism - missing too many classes.

That being said, schools are heavily incentivized to get students to pass and graduate. If a student is held back, it effectively adds another student-year’s worth of cost to the school; additionally, it looks bad for teachers and administrators if their students are routinely failing to learn.

Grade inflation is the most common antidote to grade retention - squeezing as many students as possible past the passing line, even if it requires lowering standards or fudging the numbers a bit.

The whole subject deserves a more thorough review, but that’s not our aim here.

The New System

We’re already doing away with grade levels - no 1st grade, 2nd grade, and so on, so we don’t have to worry about matriculation in that sense. That just leaves subject-level matriculation. When should a student advance in a subject? How should that be decided?

The only thing that makes sense to me is that a student should advance in a given subject when they can demonstrate they have a working knowledge of the subject matter, and for that, we need either tests or projects.

Subjective Subjects

For subjective subjects - art, English literature, certain kinds of historical analysis - teachers used to assess student knowledge through essays. In the age of ChatGPT, this is no longer a viable method of assessing student knowledge. Forcing students to do the essays in-class, on pencil and paper, is (in my opinion) a waste of everyone’s time, since that’s not how anyone is ever forced to do anything outside of school.

Instead, I pose that there is no way to objectively measure prowess in these subjects, and so we shouldn’t attempt to make one. Rather than write an essay or take a standardized test about the themes in Catcher in the Rye, students would engage in one-on-one interviews with teachers at the conclusion of a class. Teachers would assess, via their own judgement, whether or not those students were ready to advance.

The key thing here is that, because we can’t objectively measure performance, these classes would all be pass/fail, with each teacher deciding for each student if that student passes or fails. Yes, it gives a great deal of power to the judgement of individual teachers, meaning that the incentive for students to guess the teacher’s password will be high, but that’s no different, in the end, from our current system.

All a standardized test does is change whose password the students are trying to guess, in a subjective subject. At least in a long interview, a teacher will have the chance to have a dialogue with a student, really plumbing the depths of what they’ve learned and what they thought.

Objective Subjects

The good news for objective subjects is that we can actually test whether or not students can perform, and to some extent how well they can perform.

Objective subjects, like math, science, computer science, and engineering, have objectively correct answers. It’s important to remember that they may not have a single correct answer, but a given answer is either correct or incorrect.

Students should matriculate in an objective subject when they can either pass a test demonstrating their knowledge of the subject - and these tests can be standardized - or complete a project that satisfies an objective metric.

For examples of the latter, take computer science. A computer program either does what it’s supposed to or it doesn’t - it either succeeds or it fails. To advance in a computer science field, students should have to complete a project - or projects - that successfully solve the desired problems. This is more or less how computer science education works in college.

For another example, take physics and engineering. Tests could work here, or students may have to build a bridge that can take a certain weight without breaking before they are allowed to advance.

The key with objective subjects is to be objective - reality does not grade on a curve. A student’s performance can be measured and compared against other students, but in the end a minimal benchmark should be set, and failure to meet that benchmark prevents matriculation, period.

Objective subjects can be graded with percentages or letters, it doesn’t really matter - in the end, what matters is the cutoff for failure, and that it is maintained at a high standard.


We’ll organize our system into three phases.

Phase 1 will cover the basics - the things that a student absolutely cannot do without.

Phase 2 will expand a student’s horizons by exposing them to a variety of subjects and knowledge.

Phase 3 will involve more specialized education.

Key to this approach is the idea that every student will move at their own pace, which means that phases don’t correspond to student age or grade level, not that we have grade levels in this new system. Additionally, each student may move through phases 2 and 3 in different subjects at different speeds. That’s totally fine.

Phase 1 - The Basics

Finally, we can talk about subjects. What should a student learn? I’ll reiterate that it’s okay to have different opinions about this, although I happen to think my opinions are more equal than the current system’s opinion’s.

For the first phase of a student’s education, the important thing is establishing basic literacy and numeracy. These are so important that they’re the only things we’re going to focus on in this phase.


Being able to read has been a core civilizational skill since the Renaissance, arguably since the invention of the printing press. Most knowledge in the world, most educational processes, most paths to success require the ability to read competently.

Unfortunately, our current system is barely adequate here, and badly misprioritizes the content students are given to read.

The logic of the existing system is something like:

  1. Teach students to read by whatever method the teacher wants.
  2. Force them to read specific books, whether or not the students want to read them or like the content, because someone decided those books are historically or culturally relevant.
  3. Literacy.

The key logic for our new system goes like this:

  1. Teach students to read using phonics, which works, regardless of how teachers feel about it (apparently something called the Reading Wars has been happening about using phonics versus other methods).
  2. Allow children to read literally whatever they want (so long as it has actual words involved). Children should be exposed to a wide variety of books and media, from comic books and manga to light novels and short stories, from anthologies to poetry to collected essays to science fiction and fantasy to young adult fiction. Then, to reiterate the point: Let the children read whatever they enjoy reading.
  3. People, including students, do things they enjoy doing.
  4. People, including students, get better at the things they do regularly.
  5. If students read regularly because they enjoy it, then they will get good at reading.
  6. Literacy.

Here we reach a vital point:

The overarching goal for phase 1, when it comes to literacy, is to instill a love of reading into the student. Everything else is secondary to that.

By making reading something the student enjoys, they’ll be self-motivated to learn as much as they need to. The current system’s insistence on forcing students to read specific material that they don’t enjoy is, in my opinion, a large source of dysfunction and the reason many adults don’t read for enjoyment. They learn to associate reading with being forced to read material they don’t care about, and nothing corrects that impression.

As a side note: students with dyslexia or other conditions making reading more difficult may need specific help and/or stay in phase 1 for a long time. This is perfectly okay! If a student graduates high school only having completed phase 1 - only having learned how to read and to enjoy reading - that’s still a victory to me.


Being able to do basic math - addition, subtraction, multiplication, division - has been a core civilizational skill for anyone interested in running a business since the beginning of civilization. Literally. Some of the earliest examples of writing we have are tax records, and running a business necessitates the ability to calculate profit and loss.

In the current system, numeracy is taught via memorization, and I don’t really know if there’s a better way to teach it than that.

What I will say, however, is that math is always more fun and easier to learn when it’s useful - that is, when it has practical value to the person doing it.

The logic of our current system is something like:

  1. Teach students numbers.
  2. Teach students addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  3. ???
  4. Profit.

The logic of our new system goes like this:

  1. Teach students numbers.
  2. Teach students addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (no way around the hard work here that I’m aware of).
  3. Have students play games that involve basic math.
  4. People, including students, do things they enjoy doing.
  5. People, including students, get better at the things they do regularly.
  6. If students do basic math regularly because they enjoy it, then they will get good at basic math.
  7. Numeracy.

Here we reach a vital point:

The overarching goal for phase 1, when it comes to numeracy, is to instill the utility of basic math into the student, by showing them how useful it is for activities that they enjoy.

By making basic math a part of activities they already enjoy - games, video games, sports, whatever - students will become good at it without being forced to.

Math’s fatal flaw, when it comes to education, is that while it can be pursued as its own end at the highest levels, for the vast majority of people math is a means to an end. It’s something to get good at so that you can do other things - run a business, do your taxes, play a game, understand poker or fantasy football or weather forecasts.

Math is too often taught disconnected from its use, which makes it seem like the meaningless manipulation of numbers and symbols. To make numeracy second nature to students, they need to see and touch and feel its usefulness to them personally.

Let the students play fantasy football or the Pokemon card game or Magic: The Gathering or whatever, so long as it involves actual calculations they can do with the knowledge they have. Let them see how being good at math benefits them, and they’ll be motivated to get better at math.

As a side note: as above, students with dyscalculia or other conditions making math more difficult may need specific help and/or stay in phase 1 for a long time. This is perfectly okay! If a student graduates high school only having completed phase 1 - only having learned how basic math and that it’s useful to them - that’s still a victory to me.

Phase 2 - Survey Courses & Core Civilizational Requirements

Different students will be interested in different subjects, but in order for a student to know that they’re interested in a subject, they must first be exposed to it.

In phase 2, students continue on the path of literacy and numeracy the way they did in phase 1, while taking a variety of survey courses designed to expose them to a wide variety of topics and ideas. They also must fulfill several core civilizational requirements - the absolute minimum coursework to understand how civilization works and how one fits into it.

Survey Courses

In college, a survey course is designed to expose a student to a wide variety of subject matter within a given field, without going into too much detail on any particular subject.

This is ideal for us: we want students to be self-motivated in their education, but everyone starts off not knowing what they don’t know. By taking a variety of survey courses, we’ll move students from not knowing what they don’t know to knowing, even just a little, just how much there is to learn.

I’d imagine - although this is quite flexible, and probably ought to be tested and adjusted based on real-life classroom experience - that the survey course could be broken up similarly to how subjects are currently broken up in schools. Science, history, engineering, art, etc., where the science survey course would cover physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and so on, and likewise for the other subjects.

Survey courses would be pass/fail, mostly based on attendance, participation, and in-class work, with supplemental lectures viewed online. Since we’re not expecting or aiming for mastery, only to cultivate interest and and awareness, there’s no need for strict testing.

Core Civilizational Requirements

There are things everyone living in our civilization should know, and our current school system does an absolutely terrible job teaching them. I can - and quite possibly will - make this a post on its own, given that it deserves the space. In lieu of that deeper treatment, here are the basics:

Basic (little to no math) economics - Students must demonstrate an understanding of supply and demand, specialization and trade, and how capitalism works

Basic (little to no math) statistics - Students must demonstrate an understanding of basic probability, risk and reward, odds, and the gambler’s fallacy, along with a basic understanding of how data can be aggregated and displayed in honest and deceptive ways

Basic industrial history - Students must demonstrate an understanding of what the industrial revolution did for our civilization, exchanging a world of scarce goods for a world of abundance

Basic civics/governance - Students must demonstrate an understanding of how our government works, what the three branches are and how they interact, how laws are passed and taxes and budgets are formed

Basic scientific method - Students must demonstrate an understanding of the scientific method, why the method is important compared to what came before it, and how it allows us to accumulate knowledge through careful experimentation

Basic media literacy - Students must demonstrate an understanding of how media, including social media, distorts the truth due to the incentives it faces, and how to live in a world where not everything presented as true actually is

These courses can be graded, but a student has to pass them all before moving out of phase 2. This is key knowledge for anyone living in a modern civilization, and we can currently see how a lack of it distorts people’s perceptions and hurts the US.

Phase 3 - Specialization

In phase 3, students get to choose what they want to study in more depth. If they don’t want to study anything in more depth - if they feel utterly academically disinterested - then, assuming they’ve fulfilled their core requirements, they can spend their time on other pursuits.

If a student wants to pursue art or music or athletics or just be social, that’s okay. It’s better to let students do so than to force them to study material they have no interest in, as that causes resentment and disgust to build up later.

Core Adulting Requirements

The core requirements in phase 3, that all students must take, are designed to teach students core life skills for adults. The courses can be graded, although with more generous pass/fail standards than the core civilizational requirements.

Here’s a first pass at what these courses would look like:

Basic money -students must demonstrate a basic understanding of budgeting, investing, and handling money responsibly. Emphasize real-world examples, taking students through realistic looks at student debt, retirement ages, and paying taxes.

Basic physical health - students must demonstrate a basic understanding of the health impacts of nutrition (good or bad), physical exercise, smoking, and drug use. Students must demonstrate an understanding of the risks and benefits of sex, pregnancy, and related subjects.

Basic mental health - students must demonstrate a basic understanding of how to extend empathy to themselves and others. Various strategies for coping with stress, trauma, and loss will be covered, along with making students aware of how to ask for help when struggling.

Basic communication skills - students must demonstrate the ability to communicate effectively in written and oral situations, in both domestic and professional settings.

Basic job awareness - a class where students are visited by an adult in a different profession every day, who spends the time talking about what their profession and day-to-day life is like. Emphasis is on regular jobs, not the traditional teacher/police officer/fireman jobs that are highly visible to children. Examples include programmers, managers, salespeople, government office workers, retail workers, small business owners, etc.


In phase 3 - which might correspond, age-wise, to what we think of as high school (although plenty of students can and should reach stage 3 earlier), students are given the freedom to study what interests them.

Teachers become, rather than managers or wardens enforcing how a student spends every moment of their time, resources students can use to further their education along whatever axis they choose.

Heavy use will be made of online educational resources, from YouTube to various MOOCs. Students will be able to get various certifications, college credits, and other qualifications in this stage if they want to.

The school should provide, if possible, resources for the students to learn, from computer labs to materials for woodworking or basic circuitry or auto repair. Partnerships with local businesses could facilitate the acquisition of such resources, and provide a source of apprenticeships or other learning opportunities.

The specifics of what this looks like and how it works will be discussed in another post, but the general idea is that, once students have been made aware of how our civilization functions and what the job market rewards, their choices should be their own. It should be made clear to them that if they want to slack off and accomplish nothing during their years at public school, that’s an option available to them - but the consequences will be on their own heads. On the other hand, the opportunities for them to request and receive help if needed will be numerous, and there would be a number of pre-defined “paths” to help model for them what their options are.


We divided public education into three phases.

Phase 1 involves basic literacy and numeracy, with a focus on enjoying reading and the usefulness of mathematics.

Phase 2 involves core civilizational requirements and survey courses, with a focus on grounding students in our industrialized world and giving them an idea of what kind of fields of study exist.

Phase 3 involves core adulting requirements and self-study, with a focus on giving students life skills and the freedom to pursue their own interests and passions.

Next post we’ll outline some of the curricula mentioned above, going into more depth on what we want students to learn.


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