Something we read in my English 101 class on Tuesday brought up the question of why we go to school. You would think that after these poor kids had been through 12 or 13 years of it already, someone would have explained it, but no. Actually, you’d really wonder why students themselves had never demanded an explanation, but apparently not.
School is not for giving you vocational skills or to develop character or to keep you out of trouble. We all go to school for one reason. Think about it: all the major aspects of each discipline do the same thing; they have one general goal in common.
English: outlining writing; defending a thesis with evidence in an organized composition; grammar and diagramming sentences
Math: applying formulas; solving equations
Science: using the scientific method
History: creating timelines; finding causes, effects, and connections between events
Art: using perspective, proportions, and other techniques
See the pattern?
The single overall purpose of every class is to train your mind to think logically. By “education,” we ultimately mean the development of habits of orderly reasoning. As I read in Why Don’t Students Like School?, discovery is fun but thinking–sustained focus–is hard. Nobody is born liking it, and we have to work at being good at it. Notice also that the thought process involved in each of these activities is meant to automatically transfer to natural, normal activities throughout our lives.
But when will I ever diagram sentences in the real world? you ask. The answer (and here is where we as educators tend to be remiss, falling back on the very poor excuse that school will “help you get a good job” rather than promote education as a good thing in and of itself) is simply this: you won’t. Of course you won’t.
But think of it this way: in a thousand years, you will never do anything in “real life” even remotely like a push up or bench press. So why do we exercise? Because those exercises develop the muscles that we do use in real life. Ditto for school. It’s merely an efficient means of training a muscle–in this case, the mind–to be ready for a variety of situations outside of the gym, er, school. Sorry, I got confused with my analogy there for a moment.