The designers of our society long ago determined that all its young citizens must be compelled to undergo a program of schooling intended to civilize them, that is, to make them into good citizens: well-functioning, useful members of an orderly, productive society, but also intellectually prepared to think freely and clearly for themselves and to form independent judgments about what is good for themselves and for a democratic society ruled by the will of the majority of its adults.
What then ought to constitute such a compulsory educational program? What necessary knowledge and skills should be inculcated in students for them to serve as citizens and thrive as human beings to the best of their abilities?
They must know language, their national language certainly, and other languages advisedly. The greater their facility with reading, writing and speaking, the better—of which there is no end of development and refining. No clarity and cogency of thought or communication comes without linguistic facility. Language skills are primary.
Numeracy, as well as literacy, is a vital skill, at least to the level of measurement and financial accounting. Reckonings of quantities and sizes, areas and volumes—hence arithmetic and geometry, at the least—are basic mental functions to perform.
History is vital so that we can stand on the shoulders of our forebears. We can learn vicariously from their experiences and experiments in social and cultural modes of communal life, avoiding their failures and transcending their successes. Social systems continually evolve, but that process is best guided by clear understanding of what in the past has proved most viable; hence the need to study not only history but anthropology, sociology, psychology, politics, and economics—the social sciences that reveal the dynamics of successful social aggregations.
Science too is vital, necessary to understand, because it is our most practical means of knowing the world, ignorance of which means danger and debility. Science serves our natural human curiosity about how things are and how things work, an impulse that facilitates our efforts to improve our circumstances by invention.
Then when it comes to enhancing the quality of human experience beyond merely getting by, the artistic and spiritual potentials need to flourish lest the vitality and beauty of self-expression be stifled. How can life be felt as good without music, art, literature, and imaginings of many kinds? How can the human spirit soar without updrafts of expressive creativity, the gusts and lusts of invention? Once the human soul has expanded into joyful creativity, it grows increasingly generous and kindly, an attitude needed for inspiring the moral behavior requisite for a good society.