Decision-Making Should Be a Required Course in Every High School

We spend too much time making kids memorize facts instead of giving them the skill that will help them throughout their lives

Steven Johnson
Forge
Published in
7 min readSep 11, 2018

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Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

When I look back at the first quarter-century of my life in school, it’s hard not to be astounded at the sheer range of subjects I was taught: grammar, chemistry, algebra, European history, postmodern literary theory, film studies, and countless others. We all have a similar list, with some variation at the margins. But contemplating all those courses a quarter-century later, as a 50-year-old, what really strikes me is what was missing from the list.

In all those years at school, not once did I take a class that taught me how to make a complex decision, despite the fact that the ability to make informed and creative decisions is a skill that applies to every aspect of our lives: our work environments; our domestic roles as parents or family members; our civic lives as voters, activists, or elected officials; and our economic existence managing our monthly budget or planning for retirement.

I’m not the sort of person who gripes about all the useless trivia I learned in school; I’ve made a career out of finding meaning in the obscure realms of different disciplines. But I wish at least some of that time in the classroom had been dedicated to the art of deciding. This strange omission has become something of an obsession for me, because for the past eight years I’ve been researching and writing a new book about complex, long-term decision-making called Farsighted. The book is a survey of an emerging multidisciplinary field of research that has given us a great deal of new information about how to make better choices at important crossroads in our lives, choices that may have consequences that reverberate for years, even decades: whether to change careers, or buy a house in the suburbs and leave the city, or launch a new product in a new market.

Most of the important research in this emerging field has been conducted on small- to medium-​­sized group decisions: a group of military advisers weighing different options for an invasion; a community board trying to decide on the proper guidelines for development in a gentrifying neighborhood…

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Steven Johnson
Forge
Writer for

Writer. 13 books. (Latest: Extra Life.) TV/Podcast Host (Extra Life, American Innovations.) Brooklyn/Marin. Speech inquiries: wesn at leighbureau dot com.