I just finished watching a wonderful Ted talk by a man named Chris Lehmann. His talk, Education is Broken, discusses the problem with the question “why do I have to learn this?”. Teachers hear this question all the time, and they have a variety of answers. You’ll need it next year, you’ll need it in college, it’s on the SOL’s, maybe you’ll be a doctor/lawyer/engineer/mathematician, etc. All of these answers are short sighted, and kids see right through them. Chris says that the answers should be that learning these subjects teaches you how to learn.
When I was growing up and being homeschooled, I asked my mother (and primary teacher) why I had to learn all this. Her answer was, “because it’s good to learn.” My mother talks a lot about learning for the sake of learning. She loves to say that education comes from the the Greek word for leisure, because learning is a privilege that many do not enjoy. We don’t need to give kids lame, pragmatic, employment focused answers to this questions. We need to take the “Why do I have to learn this” moments and use them as opportunity to demonstrate a true love of learning.
Why should I learn physics? Because it is the language of motion.
Why should I learn math? Because it is the language of God and the universe.
Why should I learn I learn art and music? Because they are the language of the soul.
Why should I learn English? Because it’s your language!
Why should I learn history? Because it’s the story of you and your people.
Why should I learn biology? Because it is the study of your body and your physical world.
Why should I study philosophy? Because, with it, you can make sense of all this other learning.
It does not matter if you ever use that math formula again. No one will ever put a gun up to your head and grill you about Shakespearean Sonnets. You probably are never going to need to know the exact date of the Magna Carta. However, that formula challenged you to think in a way you never would have otherwise; it made you a better thinker. Those Sonnets were beautiful, and allowed you to hear something good, true, and beautiful; it connected you to the thoughts and feelings of someone in another time. The Magna Carta was a huge influence on modern democracy, and now you understand that the regime in which you live is not something to take for granted, or even to accept as necessarily correct.
Education is bigger than getting a good job. Education can make people into better, deeper, more creative, more inquisitive, more empathetic people. These sorts of people will do more benefit to society than a million worker bees ever could.