In response to: “When will we ever use this in real life?”


Everyone must take the big jump. What can birds and humans do to ensure the young survive? via giphy

The short of it:

School is not job training. We are not trying to teach you everything you could possibly need to know to do some job, some day. That is literally impossible.

So instead, we teach you skills. Skills like logic, writing, deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, empathy, argument. This is the best idea we’ve got to set you up for success in an unpredictable future.

The long of it:

Throughout time, people have been born. And before people, there were non-human animals. And before animals, there were plants, fungi, bacteria, and so forth.

Most baby animals, like, say, bunnies, do not spend very long with their mothers before they are left alone. Six weeks, maybe. Also, for most of that time, the babies are useless: they can’t walk, they can’t talk, and they can barely see.

Why do babies even exist?

How do you expect bunnies to learn everything they need to know to keep safe out there in the big, bad world in only a few weeks? Mother Bun isn’t drilling flashcards of all the possible predators, the most delicious and poisonous berries, and the top qualities to look for in a mate. So what does she do?

Mothers, along with the infinite wisdom of nature, engrain general ideas to keep the babies alive: the essence of a predator (but not all possible types), how to look for food (but not every kind of edible and toxic food), how to dig a proper borough (but not the exact specifications and location for it).

Barnacle geese (from the gif above) teach resilience. That’s the whole point of the cliff jump.

In order to survive in an unpredictable world, we evolved learning. We can learn, rabbits can learn, even plants and fungi and bacteria have types of “learning”.

What does this have to do with school?

Perhaps, in the beginnings of modern schooling, we taught directly applicable skills. You needed to be able to do arithmetic, because there were no calculators, and you needed to be able to spell, because dictionaries were rare.

But now we have too many skills and too many jobs. No one really needs to know specific things like long division and all the kings of England, because (a) no one cares anymore; and (b) if you care, you can look it up.

So why do we keep teaching?

Math is the method we use to practice logic, and History gives us a way to understand people. These are our best bets on what will be useful in the future, for the broadest range of careers, to give the largest possible group a chance at success.

“When will we ever use this in real life?” No one knows! But hopefully, when confronted with a challenge, you will have a full repertoire of skills to wield as you conquer it.