Learning: And The Point Is?

If you have school age kids, especially if they are in middle school, odds are you have heard “I don’t know why we have to learn this stuff anyway” a few hundred times. Like most parents, I explain that one day they will have to balance a checkbook, measure something, play “Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire?” or some other example of why it is necessary to learn what “x to the 3rd power divided by the square root of 318” is.

One of the biggest problems I have with this particular “why” question is that I don’t like lying to my kids. Unless you become a professor, or something like that, odds are you will never use half the stuff you learn in school. Even if you did become a science professor, why did you have to learn geography? If you are a mathematician, do you really need to know how to properly diagram a sentence?

Don’t get me wrong, I love school. I think it is great for kids to know all kinds of stuff, plus it is wonderful to get them out of the house for a few hours. I just don’t know the best way to answer the “why do I have to learn this” question. I have started to tell my kids that “To be honest, you won’t actually need to know the capitals of each state and country throughout the world, but they aren’t going to let you graduate until you do, so just put it in your “school-term memory” and deal with it.”

That seems to satisfy them until the next painful subject area comes up. Thankfully, if you tell your kids the truth, that they don’t actually need to know all the subjects other than to pass school; you can give them the same answer each time they ask.

One day they will be old enough to go on Jeopardy and then call to tell you “You were wrong mom, I did need to learn that. Thanks for making me lose.” When that happens, just remember that without your guidance, they might have become physicists or astronauts or something, in which case they would have put you through another 8 to 10 years of “Why do we have to learn this?”

10 thoughts on “Learning: And The Point Is?

  1. I am with you on this one – and I’m a teacher. But I like to think my students would say that I don’t make them learn anything irrelevant. That’s what my blog is for.

    • Well, to be fair to my chemistry teacher, I did use the periodic table once. I happened to go to the dentist and they used laughing gas which is N2O. So, I guess that whole year of drama and tears trying to remember the elements was well worth it. 😉

  2. Have you ever heard of a comedian called “Father Guido Sarducci” (www.fathersarducci.com)? He had a bit called 5-minute University where he would teach you everything you would remember 5 years after you left school (for a price) in 5 minutes. You’d also get a diploma!

    What I realized is that not a whole lot of the things you’re taught in school is the actual lesson. What school really teaches you is to jump through hoops a certain way, according to the rules a given instructor stipulates. This prepares you for the real world where the vast majority of the jobs could be filled by those without specialized educations who could learn everything they need to know on the job much more efficiently. School is, largely, society’s way of “taming” the workforce.

    • I haven’t heard of that comedian, but that is so true. I think that a large part of the real education you get in elementary school is when to stand up, sit down, etc. In Junior High, you learn a lot about how to handle criticism and how difficult it can be to work with others, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. In High School you learn that life is more about work than fun…at least that is what those schools taught me. There is a lady “Anita Renfroe” who sings a song about all the things moms say in a day. She condenses it down to a few minutes too. I think that really, it would only take about 30 minutes to teach most of the real-world lessons. I guess that we go through 12 years of school to reinforce what we are too rebelious to learn in 30 minutes. 😉

  3. We haven’t changed our way of teaching kids in centuries… except for computers, and they don’t count because they are not being utilized correctly yet. Take 2 random kids and stick them in 2 random classes, even if they were raised in a bubble and knew the exact same things, their grades would rarely match, due to various reasons. The Greeks were teaching kids the same way 4,000 years ago.

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