As noted in my previous post, there is a diverse student body – ethnically, culturally, and academically. Students in the advanced eighth grade Geometry class to which I am formally assigned are likely college bound and will need a rudimentary understanding of mathematics as part of their post-secondary education. Others in the basic eighth grade math class, quite frankly, probably will not require a liberal arts mathematics background in their daily lives past high school.
So the question often posed by these students is, ‘when will I use this in real life?’ or ‘why do I even need to learn this anyway?’ Apparently ‘because the state of Kansas says so’ or ‘maybe someday you might need to use it’ are not satisfactory answers.
As a future educator, this is something I struggle to answer myself – why are we teaching kids things they won’t likely need later on? Would students not better benefit from receiving a more technical, hands on education from day one?
Maybe so, but there is an assumption underlying these questions that we should ONLY acquire concrete knowledge that has absolute utility. However, is the education system’s sole purpose to fill up students brains with ‘the facts’ as though they were jarheads?
I don’t think so, personally. The purpose of our education system ought to be to teach students the process of how to ask questions reason, and problem solve. In essence, the purpose is to give students the tools to think. While most people probably won’t have to calculate what the angles in a 100-gon polygon are on the job (my Geometry class learned how to do so today), seeing patterns in the natural world and making predictions on it is necessary for living, whether as a machinist or an astrophysicist.
However, investing students in this notion and motivating them to acquire knowledge is less than easy. How does a teacher challenge assumptions that there is value in learning material that is not of immediate utility?