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?”