This is a TED talk by malcolm gladwell on spaghetti sauce: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/malcolm_gladwell_on_spaghetti_sauce.html
The story of it is that, until recently, companies did market research incorrectly: they asked a group of consumers ‘which of these spaghetti sauces do you prefer?’ and then averaged the results, trying to find the ‘best’ sauce. Howard Moskowitz apparently came along and said, no, different people have different tastes, and we should have several different kinds of spaghetti sauce to account for that. This idea, seemingly so obvious, was quite correct, and quite successful in the marketplace and now Prego has 19 different varieties of spaghetti sauce instead of just one.
It seems interesting to think how this message applies to education. In a single school there are often several versions of a class, but they are organized according to ‘quality’ instead of ‘taste’, and the main distinction tends to be something like: in the honor’s section the kids might actually care about the material, and you learn more stuff. I wonder if there isn’t room for some more taste-based varieties of the same class — ones that pay attention instead to our specific strengths and interests? Personally as a very application-driven student I think I would have remembered a great deal more of my classes if they had been taught in the context of their uses.
(I suppose it’s possible this is already something some educators have considered; certainly I’ve been told to teach in different ways in the same class in the hopes of appealing to multiple learning styles. And it sounds too resource intensive a thing to offer a taste-based variety of a single class, I suppose. But sometimes there are chances for such an arrangement, especially at large schools with many sections of the same class …)
Semi-relatedly: an interesting metric which I haven’t seen explored in schools is: how much info do you retain from your classes long after you’ve taken them? Especially for subjects which you may not apply until years later, like high school sciences transferring to college ones, this seems relevant but unexplored. What if you had a biology test not just at the end of freshman bio, but every six months or year after until you graduated? (Would anyone pass? Would the way we study and take notes change?)