Skills: which ones?

Tara of tarastotle blog asked such good questions that I've decided to post my responses as a blog entry:
So, kids don't need to learn math or writing skills and can learn whatever they need to (or what interests them) from the internet and tv? Please tell me you're kidding.
What is the purpose of education? Does writing "skills" make an adult? How much is enough? Sign checkbooks? SMS on a cellphone? Type enough to surf web pages? Most jobs do not require a lot of writing or math. And rarely do you need calculus or differential equations to solve work problems (I've been working 18 years as a programmer and I've NEVER used algebra let alone calculus in my job). I believe that the primary goal of education is for my children to self-educate themselves. Secondary is to teach this ability to others (i.e., the next generation).

On the other hand, the kind of skills I want my sons to have are: be responsible for their actions, respect their elders and be courteous to others. There are no standardized tests for these "skills." (While these skills are sorely lacking in today's society, if you ask me, but I digress.)
This is how we end up with homeschooled kids who can name every Civil War battle but who don't know the first thing about critical thinking or the scientific method.
Personally, I'm not into memorizing stuff since being able to regurgitate facts is not man's highest intellectual ability (we've created tools like index cards, PDAs and Google-connected cellphones).

As for critical thinking or even scientific method, I don't know how you can precisely test and measure these "skills." And even if they have it "down," none of these skills prevent them from lying or faking the results to make themselves look good -- or just plain lazy. See for example, Boston Globe article where about 33% of scientists engaged in questionable research practices or Public Library of Science Medicine found that pharmaceutical companies used peer reviewed journals to their favor or New Scientist report how authors never read the cited papers-- so much for the "scientific method." Unless there is a moral component reaffirmed by an absolute Enforcer, all bets are off and anything goes -- that is, none of these "process" or "skills" don't amount to a whole lot of beans.
I'm all for supplementing learning at home (God knows the French lessons and math workbooks I suffered through)
Just because someone has suffered in schooling doesn't mean other people have to go through the same abuse. At least not with my children, you don't! [My thoughts for my sons: I've gone through these abuses myself, but I'm doing my darnest so you won't!]
but my experience in meeting homeschooled kids is that they have huge gaps in basic knowledge.
This doesn't sound like a scientific statement or even a well studied one. And at first glance I thought it was about public school children -- I've had to reread that sentence over to make sure.

With that said, I ask again: what is the purpose of education? Having "basic knowledge as some authority deems fit?" How is anyone qualified to judge if one has "enough" knowledge but the parents and the society in general? If a person can interact with others in a productive and constructive way, who cares what detailed "knowledge" they have? Just as the marketplace will weed out bad companies, society will "weed out" bad people (be it jail or other forms of isolation).

Let me ask this, dear reader: do you hand out a paper exam to a new person before you start having a conversation? Or ask 20 questions before you start really talking with the caller on the phone? No! You "test" them as you interact in a polite way. That is, you don't give exams to people before you start interacting, and we would all be offended if someone gave us presceening exams. So why should every child go through the abuse (i.e., "testing" for knowledge gaps) you won't tolerate yourself or subject other normal adults to?
That public schooled kids aren't having the opportunity to learn as much has more to do with the requirements forced on them by the federal government than with the supposed ineptitude of teachers.
This statement only looks at one problem with public schooling. Yes, the fed is one problem (unconstitutional, if you ask me). But even if everything was locally controlled, you still have the problem of uninvolved parents, which turns the teachers into baby sitters and even addicted to textbooks. Which no amount of money will solve. The best way, as far as I can tell, is for getting rid of the whole public school system and making the parents fully responsible, again....