Why Do I Have to Learn Every Subject in School?

February 12th, 2013 posted by Don Dewsnap

by Don Dewsnap

This article is for students, especially middle school and high school students. They have a question and deserve an answer: “What do I have to study this stuff for? I’m never going to use it.” It is also for their parents, so they might be prepared with an answer to those age old questions when they ask.

Kids growing up tend not to think too much about what the world will be like in fifty years. This is not entirely surprising, because no one knows what the world will be like in fifty years. Grownups, however, have seen many changes in their lifetime, and recognize that the world does change over time. They know how they were prepared for the changes, and how they weren’t. Parents want their kids to be as prepared as possible for whatever changes occur.

Some subjects might seem irrelevant to day-to-day living: chemistry, history, Latin, math, etc. Yet each of them provides a basis for adaptation, and more important, for creation. When faced with a situation, you will have the choice of adapting to it, or changing it. That is, being the effect of it or being cause over it. Being cause requires having the data not only to understand the situation, but also to envision a better situation and know the way to bring it into existence.

History, for instance, is not about dates, but about how and why things happened, both good and bad. What did people do that made things better or worse in the situations they faced?

Chemistry is not about how many grams of this combine with how many grams of that, so much as it is about knowing the basic properties of different materials, and how they interact with other materials and with people.

Latin is not about vocabulary, but about the basic construction of written communication, which can assist or prevent understanding. Parts of speech are not some arbitrary system, but describe how to get ideas across clearly from person to person.

Math is not about formulas, but is a way to think about the physical universe and its relationships in space and time. Basic arithmetic is useful for its own sake, as it prevents foolish errors. Higher math, such as algebra, trigonomety, geometry, and calculus, is useful not so much for application as for knowing what is realistic or possible and what is a waste of effort.

Any subject can be looked at in the same way. There is much to learn about any subject that may have no practical application in your life, but will contribute to an overall understanding of life. It also turns out that what may seem to have no practical application will pop up at the most unlikely moments as being the exact piece of information that helps to solve a problem. Personally, I have been able to use almost everything I ever learned in school at one time or another, and if I had learned more, I have no doubt I would have used that too.

It is well and good to set a course for your life and prepare for that course as best you can. It is even recommended to recognize that unforeseen winds might blow you off that course, and you should be prepared to navigate in unexpected waters. The only way to do that is to study as widely as you can all the waters that exist, so none are completely unfamiliar. It is only the unfamiliar which is frightening, so if you familiarize yourself with these tactics, none will terrorize you.

Don Dewsnap (1 Posts)


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Cindy Rowe (7 Posts)

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