Book: The Saber-Tooth Curriculum

I just got married! I also just finished reading The Saber Tooth Curriculum

The Saber-Tooth Curriculum
The Saber-Tooth Curriculum

Classic satire full of good quotes. Subject of running jokes since 1939.
139 pages, ★★★★★

The Saber-Tooth Curriculum is a collection of seven short, satirical stories that illustrate some quirky aspects of our education system. The same Stone Age society is used as a metaphor for our modern world throughout.

Allusion to the modern world is thinly-veiled. This Stone Age society has middle schools, universities, education officials, investors, and even a national curriculum. Only humour—including humorous names of people and school subjects—separates this Stone Age society from reality.

The main messages in this book’s seven stories are:

  1. The scientific method has made absurd yet un-disprovable theories become accepted in education; (See this example.)
  2. Schools teach an outdated set of skills to students;
  3. School reform meets resistance from all angles;
  4. Universities dictate school curricula with lofty, academic content and overcomplicate education with ‘credits’, ‘units’ and rules on ‘pre-requisites’;
  5. Unions control education for the short-term benefit of society;
  6. When young people learn outdated skills, they can’t find meaningful work;
  7. All of this is extremely difficult to change.

I agree with most of these points. After graduation from Cambridge during the economic crisis with no job, no practical skills and no employers even remotely interested in hiring biology graduates, I felt I’d been cheated into some massive con. Unlike history or art, biology isn’t particularly interesting to other people, either. I would love to see curricula become more relevant to society than they are today—we’d have a more interesting, more employable crop of graduates in years to come.

Part II, The Saber-Tooth Curriculum, is the most famous story in this book. In synopsis, a cave-dwelling society refuses to alter its school curricula despite an impending ice age which completely redefines the skills required in the workplace. This story highlights how schools still teach swathes of irrelevant knowledge (too much maths, too much chemistry) and neglect the useful skills to the detriment of everyone (reading, writing, health, religion, and more).

The most incredible thing about this book is that it’s still relevant 70 years after being written! As long as school curricula are playing catch-up with society, The Saber-Tooth Curriculum will stay relevant. Recommended for anyone who went to university. ★★★★★

6 thoughts on “Book: The Saber-Tooth Curriculum

    1. Some people have great ideas but changing giant institutions always takes time. Private schools are leading the way partly because they’re smaller (i.e. they’re not a part of the giant national education system). In Australia, the 7 states have spent years trying to agree on some basic aspects of the National Curriculum, which is still being designed.

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