Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

What Your 18-Year-Old Needs to Know

When my folks were getting into homeschooling back in the mid eighties, there was a really popular series of books for parents out there, each titled What Your X Grader Needs To Know. I don't know if these are still around and popular -- the monkeys are rather young yet, and MrsDarwin and I have a rather blase approach to homeschooling since we feel like we've been there before.

But for whatever reason, I was thinking this weekend about things one ought to know before being turned out into the world to college or work of basic training of wherever it is that you head off to at eighteen. This is a pretty rough list, and I'd love to see what else readers would suggest. It's not so much meant to be a sum-and-total of necessary education, but sort of a minimum required list for being civilized and functional.

By the time you leave home at 18 you should:

  • Read two out of these three: The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid
  • Read four of Plato's dialoges including Apology and Phaedo.
  • Have read all books of the Bible at least once.
  • Read Augustine's Confessions.
  • Read Beowulf
  • Read at least one of the volumes of the Divine Comedy (Inferno or Purgatorio would be the recommended choices).
  • Read Introduction To The Devout Life.
  • Read The Little Flowers of St. Francis and The Little Way of St. Therese.
  • Read Brideshead Revisited and Lord of the Rings.
  • Read C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves.
  • Read at least one novel by each of the following: Dickens, Austen, Dostoyevski
  • Read/see at least four Shakespeare plays including Hamlet and Macbeth.
  • Read the Constitution of the United States.
  • See Citizen Kane, The Third Man, Casablanca, The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge Over the River Kwai, Chinatown and at least one Hitchcock movie.
  • Know how to calculate the profit and loss and balance sheets of a small business.
  • Know the basics of how a relational database works (e.g. a database with order, order detail, products, and customer tables)
  • Know the basics of how to use excel.
  • Know how to calculate compound interest.
  • Know how to replace a hard drive, add additional RAM and reinstall an operating system on a computer.
  • Speak a foreign language well enough to communicate on a basic level.
  • Know how to drive a manual transmission car.
  • Know how to change a tire and change your oil.
  • Know how to operate basic power tools safely and build simple furniture (like a bookshelf or table).
  • Know how to cook at least five different meals.
  • Know how to do your own laundry.
  • Know how to shoot and clean a rifle and handgun.
  • Be able to run mile in under nine minutes.
  • Memorize the Nicene and Apostle's Creeds, the Gettysburg Address and at least one piece of poetry longer than 100 lines.

I can't claim to have done all this stuff by the time I was 18, but I never claimed to be fully civilized or fully functional. Still, I wish I had done all this stuff by 18, and it doesn't seem impossible to do so.

MrsDarwin adding on here:

By the time you leave home at 18 you should:

  • Know how to change a diaper
  • Be able to bake a loaf of bread from scratch
  • Hear Handel's Messiah, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony
  • Know the table of elements
  • Be able to start and to finish a conversation politely
  • Be able to compose a thank you note, a letter of sympathy, an essay, and a job application
  • Know how to read music, and play at least one instrument
  • Understand how the human reproductive system works (both male and female)
  • Have spoken in public at least once
  • Know how to lay a fire
  • Know how to thread a sewing machine and sew a straight stitch, and know how to sew on a button by hand
  • Have nurtured a simple vegetable or flower garden
  • Know how to set a table and use a cloth napkin
  • Know how to draw basic three-dimensional shapes
By popular demand:
  • Know how to balance a checkbook
Another Update:
Opinionated Homeschooler has some good thoughts on the list.

Also, to clarify a bit -- wanting to keeping the post down to something like a vaguely reasonable length, I tried to make some decisions about scope that would make sense. For instance, I think everyone should have read Winnie The Pooh, but since most people do this by the age of eight, I left it off. Other things, I assumed were covered by higher level items. So I assumed that between calculating compound interest and being able to produce a simple balance sheet, you must therefore also know how to manage checking and savings accounts and deal with a credit car or home loan.

The list was also pretty clearly a Catholic list. If you weren't Catholic, St. Francis, St. Therese and St. Francis de Sales would drop off, though I think anyone in Western Culture would do well to read the Bible, Augustine and Dante.

Opinionated Homeschooler is dead right in adding some Aquinas plus math through calculus (sorry MrsDarwin) to the list, as well as knowing the rules to football, baseball and poker.

The great stumbling block for me was trying to think of what you ought to know about science. Some things are so basic it seemed hardly worth mentioning: Know the names and the order of the nine planet. But the tricky thing with science is that it's not based on a few basic seminal works that you to understand the field. That's what strikes me as the weak point of great books programs where science education consists of reading Origin of Species, Newton's Principia, and several of Einstein's seminal papers. Reading "great works" of science is certainly helpful, but it doesn't really get you there.

I continue to be stumped by the science angle, so I'd be eager to hear suggestions -- seeing as some of our readers know a great deal more about science than I do. The one thing I'm pretty sure at this point should go on is:
  • Be able to explain and use Newton's universal laws of motion.


Anonymous said...

Oh forget you, Darwin. That's just crazy talk.
Now Mrs. Darwin is a bit more rational (as is usually the case with women). I can and have done all that is on her list except for knowing how to use a sewing machine. I know nothing whatsoever about it.

Does using a bread machine count as baking a loaf of bread from scratch? If so, is it ok if the bread always has a big dent in the top when it's done?

Anonymous said...

Wow!! I would be in trouble...there's lots of things on that list that I still haven't learned at age 48...
I'm not too worried though...I seem to have made it so far without them.
Hope you have a blessed Monday!

LogEyed Roman said...

Good lists, Darwins.

rhonda lugari, I would not exactly agree that Mrs. Darwin was "more rational", but then I'm a man and prejudiced. She was certainly more practical in the personal sphere rather than just the how-do-we-fit-in-the-outside-world sphere. I will admit women tend to be better at this than we are.

Inspired now, let me add a few items of my own.

--You should have some basic preparation in recognizing human threats. Abduction-proofing for kids, added by some simple things to watch for as adults.
--Some simple responses to immediate threats. At least, basic escapes from being grabbed, avoiding the worst of a blow, not being cornered, and having avenues of escape.
--Know the basics of natural disasters and the responses to them. Don't open a door that's too hot to touch in a fire. Get out REAL FAST because fires grow much faster than you expect.
--Basic first aid.
--Minimal survival knowledge such as how to drink water when it's short, and that it's far more important to stay dry than to stay "out of the wind" when hypothermia is a danger.

Ahem. Okay; regarding less disaster-related stuff:

--A good basic knowledge of your country's history. (American kids who don't even realize we had a Civil War; that's a disaster).

--If you have a distinct cultural identity different from the classic Anglic, Western, Judeo-Christian American, familiarity with that separate additional background.

--Some basic familiarity with at least one foreign nation and/or culture. (A "dead" culture certainly qualifies; the idea is to have a Copernican perspective of human culture).

--A foreign language, as Darwin mentioned. (I don't have one.)

--Basic science. I mean, so that you can follow the debate on evolution, global warming, AIDS, Star Wars weapons, etc., intelligently.

--I have a long list of cultral things I could add. And "life experiences." But my problem is not writer's block but writer's excess. The Darwin's lists on these lines are very good. A longer list will be reserved for my own blog.

Anonymous said...


Why do you need to know how to drive a manual transmission? Just so you can get 10 out of 10 for style? :)

I don't see how to balance a check book or how to use (and not use) credit cards on your list.

I like Mrs. Darwin's list (possibly because I can do all of those things except play an instrument).

mrsdarwin said...

Just to note, my list is meant to be an addition to Darwin's, not a "female" version. It's just that he posted before he mentioned his list concept to me, and I noted a few omissions.

In re the Roman's suggestion of first aid, I would add to my list knowing the Heimlich manuever and CPR. Not that I actually know these things, but I ought to. I really ought to.

Julie D. said...

Oy veh! I can't qualify for everything on either section of the list (esp. Darwin's) and here I am at a ripe old age well past 18 (we won't go into how far past).

Also, MomLady noticed the same thing I did ... I think it's funny that you don't have handle a checking and savings account on there but you DO have "Know how to calculate the profit and loss and balance sheets of a small business."

Nothing like idealism I always say but ... wow ... can youse guys do all that stuff now (and I am talking both lists)? Just curious ...

Rick Lugari said...

Sorry, Darwin, but this one made me chuckle: Know the basics of how a relational database works (e.g. a database with order, order detail, products, and customer tables)

I understand it only because I chose to develop a database for work, but I think 96% of the population would get by just fine without that essential. ;)

I would add to the list that any kid embarking on his new found freedom as an adult should know how to handle his booze. A couple episodes of getting stupid drunk and tossing his stomach contents should be enough to equip him for his future. ;)

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Great list. We added some over at Opinionated Homeschooler. I'm surprised "understand what evolution actually says" didn't make y'all's list.

mrsdarwin said...


Shows how carefully I was reading -- I didn't even notice that one on Darwin's list. Well, I
don't actually know the basics of how a relational database works, or if I do I don't know it yet.

When Darwin mentioned his list to me I suggested having balancing a checkbook on there, but then we got to talking about basic accounting and so I didn't get around to putting on my list. Maybe I should add an update.

Darwin said...

I can't claim full compliance to the list. I've still never seen Casablanca all the way through, though I know I need to. I also haven't read St. Therese's Little Way, though I know I should. (The goal with that and St. Francis was to get in the side of Catholic spirituality that I'm much less good at.)

I took a few years of piano, but my piano and music reading skills are so old as to be non-existent. I can read Latin and a little Greek, but can't speak a living language other than English.

I once had all my memorization points down, but I have forgotten them by now, if I hadn't by eighteen. I always get the Nicene and Apostle's creeds mixed up now.

I can change a tire, but I haven't tried changing my own oil.

I'm only just getting back to where I can run a mile without walking every so often to catch my breath.

On the relational databases: I realize most people don't need this every day, and I'm not saying you need to know how to program in SQL or any such thing. But given how much of our lives seem to rely on computers these days, and given the fact that nearly all your essential data is stored in relational databases somewhere or other, I think it's a good thing to know the 2-3 hour version of.

Darwin said...

And on the manual transmission -- the theory was basically just that if you don't know there's a certain percentage of the cars out there that you simply can't drive, no matter how urgent the situation.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Don't worry about changing the oil. My dad taught me as a kid, but in a lot of cars now (including my little Saturn), it's physically impossible to change the oil without a pit, since the filter is unreachably under and behind the engine. I also know in theory how to change a tire, but am quite small and physically incapable of taking off the wheel nuts (which the shop has put on with an air wrench).

Best thing is to know basic car maintenance: how to check your fluids, know what the various things under the hood are and what they do, and know when you need to take the thing to the mechanic without depending on the idiot lights to tell you.

Julie D. said...

I've still never seen Casablanca all the way through

*silent scream*

How could you STOP watching!?!?!? My mind boggles...

I think I'd also add that one needs to have a basic (and this could be VERY basic) idea of what different significant philosophers have taught through time. Rather than having read "Confessions" (not that it is a bad goal) I'd rather have my kids able to understand Freud's and Nietzche's basic concepts (and the problems thereof) so they recognize when they are being flung in our faces as basic ways of thinking.

Darwin said...

How could you STOP watching!?!?!? My mind boggles...

I wandered in one night at college to find a bunch of friends watching it, saw 20 min out of the middle, and then returned to writing the paper I was supposed to have been working on in the first place. :-P

Knowing about modern intellectual movements is probably a good idea -- though one of the reasons I tossed Confessions in there is that it's so very readable. (How about a kids picture book of the story about Augustine stealing the peaches?)

Anonymous said...

Wow... that reading list scares me. I mean, wow. How 'bout basic principles of electricity, optics, and magnetics? Quantum mechanics? Or linear algebra, calculus, and differential equations?

Honestly, don't you plan on your children being in advanced graduate studies by age 18?

Anonymous said...

Seriously on the scientific side... there should be some basic understanding of biology, chemistry, and physics.

Physics being my strongest point here, I would want my children to be able to demonstrate a basic understanding of mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity & magnetism, optics.

In chemistry, a student should be able to do those chemical reaction equations (whatever that's called). The navigating the periodic table is a must. Acids, bases, and ph are also important.

Biology... good grief... this was my least favorite science, seeing as it required more memorization than did chemistry & physics. Any biology buffs should feel free to chime in here...

Mathmatically, I would certainly agree that calculus should be part of the mix. Linear algebra is also quite useful for solving systems of equations. Geometry is also important, and not just being able to calculate area etc... of shapes, but doing geometric proofs is a great problem solving tool. We can save Diff-E-Q for college. :-)

Darwin said...

Heh. I bet your list of science requirements would scare some people at least as much as my list of required reading, Tex. :)

Actually, I really like your science and math list, though I didn't fully measure up. (Did you?) And looking at that, I'm getting a few ideas to fill in the rest of it:

-Know the 'geography' of our solar system and galaxy including current theories of their formation.
-Know the major classes of star and their life cycles.
-Know the speed of light and its implications.

History of Earth:
-Know the basic geological and paleontological timeline (as currently accepted) of the Earth's history. (Including where the continents have been, when various kinds of life appeared, major extinction events, etc.)
-Know the 'family history' of the hominid line from Australopithecus through Homo Sapiens.

-Know the Phyla and major classes and their identifying characteristics.
-Know the categories of biological classication (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) and what they mean.
-Have a basic understanding of Mendelian genetics
-Have a basic understanding of the chemistry involved in DNA
-Have a basic understanding of the parts of a cell and their function
-Have a basic understanding of human anatomy and development (including some embryology)
-Have a basic understanding of the concepts in the modern evolutionary synthesis

I'm realizing that the implicit assumption of this whole exercise (and I think a reasonable one given modern US college education) is that your education up to college should ideally give you a broad understanding of the world around you and your culture, because your college education will likely focus fairly tightly on your chosen area of study, which may well be vocational. There are some ways in which I'd like to disagree with that assumption, but it seems to be an accurate description of how most colleges work these days, so one might as well deal with it. And even if you don't go to college, it should in theory be possible to have a broad, basic cultural education by the time you leave high school.

Anonymous said...

Darwin, I wasn't home-schooled as you know. I am the product of 13 years (including kindergarten) of Catholic schools. My high school had a rigorous academic program. I was able to get a year of Calculus as a senior. Geometry, including the proofs was my soph. year. As a junior, I had trig. I forgot trigonometry in my earlier comments. Trig is also important mathematically. I did have AP physics, which included mechanics, thermo, optics, and basic electricity/magnetism. I did have a chemistry course as well. I had biology as a freshman. I did well, but it required the most effort on my part of my sciences. I had the option of an AP bio class, but I declined as I was fairly certain that my career would follow more of an engineering path than a medical one.

One thing that I did not get in high school was linear algebra. Albeit rather simple compared to Calculus, that joy was reserved for college.

I am one of those people that struggles to pick books up. I just don't have that much motivation. On the other hand, I remember when I was introduced to math in kindergarten... I came home from school and told my parents that math was my favorite subject. That didn't change much. One can see my academic strengths and weaknesses when viewing my standardized test scores (PSAT, SAT, ACT). I'm a numbers and logic type person. 'Tis why your reading list scares me so.

Anonymous said...

One thing I would thinking would be good is some basic logic study. But perhaps by the time one is 18, one should have had some basic training in a computer programming language. This would be more palatible to adolescents and be a good pre-curser to more formal logic study in college.

bearing said...

Agreeing with some other commenters: That list is seriously off-balance in the humanities vs. math/hard-science spectrum. You could easily remove some of your literary "requirements" to make room for some stuff from the other side of the brain.

In the spirit of the "classical liberal" education (and would someone please explain to me why a liberal arts education includes ALMOST NO science and math?!??), I'd suggest some geometry benchmarks. Euclid, anyone?

Stella said...

How about learning how to dance? Swing, ballroom, country line, English folk or Irish Step. I suppose this could be lumped under a sport, but it's always good to know how to do it incase a family wedding/reunion/party comes up. And it's lots of fun.

I'm familiar with the "What your X grader needs to Know" series, because most of my siblings have gone through the 3rd grade book. (Though we have progressed from there.)

kipwatson said...

Sorry to come in late, but I think in terms of history an 18 year old should know:

1) a basic background -- ie. religion, political structure, technology, quality of life, religion and philosophy and a few major political and military events (perhaps just a couple in the older or more obscure eras and at least a dozen or two in the later) of all the great cultures/civilisations: Sumerian, later Babylonian, Egyptian, Indian/Vedic, Chinese, Japanese (in our home anyway!), Hellenic, Persian, Jewish (comes with the Bible of course), Roman Republic, Roman Empire, Barbarian Germans/Celts, Early Christian (dark ages), Islamic, Early Mediaeval, Late Mediaeval, pre-Colombian, Renaissance, Enlightenment...

2) should have at least a thumbnail knowledge the major political and military events of the last 2 centuries. (ie. not just Battle of Waterloo and Gettysberg),

3) WWII - the most historically important event for 2000 years. Intelligent young adults should know all the nations involved, a bit about the key political leaders and generals, all the campigns and something about the 2 dozen or so major battles, as well as some reasonable detail about the complex web of political events leading up to the rise of Totalitarianism. ...and the technogical and scientific advances tha took.

4) same as (3) but in respect to the Cold War, Iron curtain, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, South America, Afghanistan, Israel and Arabs, China and Mao... could pick up all of that in 2-3 weeks reading, and you'd understand the world better than most.