If you are a student of mine and found your way to this blog, you may have had this question as many of my students have asked me in the classroom "Why do we need to study and memorize this stuff- it's not like we're going to be scientists or use this in our lives..."
It's a valid question. It seems pointless to be putting your effort into studying glycolysis (or Ohm's Law, or plate tectonics, or algebra, or any of the things that we might be asking of you). As a high school student you are now smart enough to question what we adults say- especially when those things we say sound like broad truisms. Like "Education is good for you".
I am writing this as some sort of answer to the question from my students. I'm writing it as a blog post so that whomever reads it can comment, students and teachers alike, or no one. When my students asked the question of why we are bothering, it seemed hollow and wrong to just say that education is important. Especially when it seemed that everything that is important to my students have nothing to do with education. I think one of the reasons "the" answer is tricky is because there isn't just an answer. There are many, and they are all pretty different from each other. Some of them might impact you more than others. I'm going to list some that I can think of, along with my thoughts:
1. The old fashioned reason: Get good grades, get into good college, get good job. That worked well 50 years ago. These days I think the grades-college-job path can still work. Especially- and if you are a student of mine this may apply to you- especially if you do well in school coming from a diverse background. When a college admission board and later job hiring dude see an applicant that rose above circumstances it raises eyebrows. They see someone who fought, who is serious, who is disciplined and determined to succeed.
2. The stuff you're learning is interesting. Isn't it true that you are just curious about things? If not, I feel bad for you, but if you still have that curiosity, stop viewing what you are learning as a list of details to memorize. For me, science is as much philosophical as "scientific". By that I mean think of the BIG PICTURE. The details you learn are insights into how we work, how we came to be, how we are designed (biology) and how the universe is designed (physics). Are we purely mechanistic, like a machine? What can science tell us and what do we really know? What don't we really know? Curiosity is always about the big picture and I think school curricula these days often lose that mind set in favor of details, but as a young philosopher don't fall victim to that trap. Whatever you are learning in school- take it upon yourself to put it into a big picture, and then stuff gets interesting. THINK.
As an example, I brought up glycolysis in the beginning of this blog post. You can think about it as a series of boring steps and as a list to memorize to get your questions right on the quiz. Or you can ask:
What is glycolysis about?
If glycolysis means breaking apart sugar, does that mean there's "energy" in sugar?
How can there be energy in sugar? And what, exactly is "energy"?
Good question. Simple quick answer is the ability to do work, or move things.
Is this chemistry?
Is this physics?
Is this biology?
Yes, cause every cell, every living thing on the planet does glycolysis. Does that mean that every cell randomly chose the exact same way to do things? Or are all cells on this earth somehow related? And if I am related to a worm, what exactly does that mean?
You see, these questions get deeper, and (at least for me) really make me wonder, think, and say "wow!" to the way things are.
3. Education prepares you to be successful. You might think this is the same as number 1. But it's not- if you view success as something more than those material things which we all enjoy. As I see it, success means you are getting the most out of life. Success means you are doing exactly what you choose to do. Success means you appreciate to the fullest extent all the stuff around you. Success means you think deeply. All these things are all under the umbrella of an engaged mind. And for your mind to develop that capacity to hum and process at higher levels, it takes training. This is not some abstract notion either. Our bodies adapt and change depending on our environment. Want big muscles? Work out. Want a great tennis backhand? Practice that tennis backhand. When the brain adapts to it's environment, we call it neuroplasticity. Education can provide that environment where your brain is challenged in all sorts of subjects. This is why you should bother studying algebra even though you know you might not become a mathematician. You're forcing your brain to handle all sorts of abstractions in school, to be creative, to be social working with others, to be scientific and artistic. All that stuff, if you do bother, and if you do try hard, gives you back the payoff of building in your own head that machine which you'll use to think and wonder and problem solve and create deeply and enjoy your world- whether you're career is as a mathematician or rapper or store worker, doctor or cook. When you really develop your thinking, it's your best tool for happiness and success- I really really believe that!
I'm curious to hear what others think on the topic. If I'm lucky I'll get feedback and comments on this topic that can advance my own thinking on this.