So, I’ve been thinking about this question: Why do I need to know this? A group of colleagues got together a few months ago and one brought up the challenge of answering this question from students.
Here are my thoughts on the topic in a nice short list:
- I do think schools and teachers have a responsibility to continually review curriculum, consider relevancy, and look to create a curriculum that balances past, present, and future.
- I don’t think that teachers should have to defend each fact or piece of information as “useful” later in life.
- K-12 education is not the same thing as job training.
If I were to explain this in something more elegant than a list, I would start with the lovely idea (cue the dramatic music) that K-12 education should be a sacred time to be idealistic, luxurious, expansive in our learning for the sake of learning, a time to seek knowledge without the need to justify it as useful.
Ok, now back in the real world where harsh lighting, bells, and cumulative averages exist.
I cannot pretend to have any magic answers for how to find that magical unicorn of a curriculum that balances the divergent views of education as a search for knowledge and education as job training. I do think that when a student asks “why do I need to know this?” he or she may be saying a number of other things (thanks to @LisainPA who reminded me of this fact):
- I don’t see how this connects to the rest of the class.
- This is hard, and so I’m trying a diversionary tactic.
- This entire subject is so not my favorite, and I am done with it.
- I didn’t do this problem on the homework, so I am trying another diversionary tactic.
- There are not a lot of things in school that interest me, and I have to spend so much time here.
- I like to see if I can get you, the teacher, off topic because then we are talking about something I enjoy more.
- I think I will have to spend a lot of time on this to learn it, maybe I can get out of that.
I could go on.
The point being, a balanced educational diet is just as important as a balanced food diet. It can’t all be cupcakes and ice cream, but neither should it be all kale and raw grains. As the chef of the classroom, it’s up to me to plan learning that is good for my students, interesting to my students, and maybe even useful in later life. Not every fact or assignment needs to check each box, but I have to hit a good balance over the course of a unit or semester. So when a student asks why do I need to know this, I know that if I answer the question as asked I know which food group(s) I am hitting. And, I need to listen for what other question is being asked and maybe answer that one instead.