Why do we study?

by Richard Riehle

Yesterday’s post about polymaths (e.g. ‘generalists’) and the notion that we, by how we teach and study, minimize the number of these ‘left-handed’ thinkers is still in my mind. I have written a number of posts trying to show how deeply and fundamentally our world has changed, but we still teach students mostly the same sorts to topics in the same manner. I guess I can only rhetorically ask whether that is as valid a means to educate students as when I was in high school (once again…a very long time ago…).

I found some essays (online) are attempting to describe why studying any of the major/core subjects is so relevant (and they probably are…). But when I had compiled this short list of essays (see below), I realized that they look suspiciously similar to a comparable list made in the 1880’s with the exception of not having to learn the classics and their related languages (Greek and Latin). Admittedly there are large differences in what is taught as well as how it is taught in almost all of these subjects. I wonder if the differences as large enough…

I guess the problem I see is that all of these subjects are still relevant, but there are now other topics, subjects, and perspectives which are now at least as relevant to know (and therefore learn…). It is important to learn as much about Asian history as Western European history, it is at least as valid to learn Mandarin as it is to learn Spanish, and (quite honestly) I think that there are many reasonable arguments that can be made as to the real value of learning German to French versus Hindi, Mandarin, Malay, or Arabic.

I heard yesterday that between China and India, there are more honor students that the total number of American students. To me, this sounds like the a call to something similar to the National Defense loan era of the early 1960’s, where there was a big push to develop more rigor in teaching students of math and science. We are looking at the probable case where we, as a country, may be rapidly falling behind. Our education industry needs at least as much focus (for long term reasons) as any other initiative currently in Washington. I think that since there are so many easily ‘find-able’ facts to support this thesis, that there shouldn’t be much debate on the issue.

So, having waved my red flag, I will leave you today with some worthwhile essays on why it is so worthwhile to study, and why some of these topics (high school core classes) are worth the effort. I think that we, as teachers can do a much better job teaching these subjects, but it is even more important for the students (and their parents) to see how important these issues are.

Why study History http://www.historians.org/pubs/Free/WhyStudyHistory.htm

Why study Math http://www.juniata.edu/faculty/esch/neatstuff/whymath.html

Why study Science http://iweb.tntech.edu/mcaprio/why_study_science.htm

Why study English http://www.antimoon.com/other/whylearn.htm

Why study Literature http://www.novelguide.com/a/discover/ssfs_18/ssfs_18_00007.html

Why study Civics http://www.civicsandpolitics.com/whystudycivics.html

Why study Politics http://faculty.tcu.edu/rmillsap/WhyStudyPolitics.htm