The school bell rings and the bright, red numbers flash 2:30 on the clock above the door. Amidst the shuffling of papers and chatter of students, the teacher shouts, “Our next unit will be on the Navajo Indians. For homework, read pages 67 through 89 in your textbook. Be prepared to discuss tomorrow!” The students groan quietly and mumble under their breath as they quickly close their notebooks and shove their pencil cases into their backpacks. One brave student challenges the teacher, “Why do we need to know about the Navajo Indians?” A few kids nod and murmur in agreement; they wonder why they should waste their time learning about a seemingly random and non-useful topic, when their time could be better spent learning about something else. Why do we learn about half the things we learn about? Is everything in the curriculum really essential for us to know?
If you can relate to the disgruntled students or often find yourself posing questions such as these, do not be ashamed or afraid to admit it. I, of all people, will not fault or blame you for these thoughts. Personally, staying in bed until nine every day, binge watching episode upon episode of The Office, and living a stressless, homework, and responsibility free life are only a few of the activities I would rather be doing than going to school. Even though I may not always enjoy it, I attend school for the obvious reason: to gain knowledge. This knowledge will either prepare me as I pursue a higher education or just for the “real world”, where continuous learning is necessary for an individual to thrive. Most of you attend school for the same reason, which is why you as well as your classmates are often dissatisfied with the curriculum and classes you are required to take. Students become frustrated with the educational system, when they feel they are not learning relevant information for their lives.
One may ask, “How will learning about the Navajo Indians help me become a chemist? or “How will trig or spanish make me a better parent, citizen, or human being?” These are valid questions; however, all of the information which we learn in school is essential to our growth as individuals. The purpose of elementary, middle, and high school is to set a solid foundation of knowledge and gradually build upon it. With every passing year, we gain more factual information and social and cultural experiences, which add to our knowledge base. The foundation eventually becomes a finished structure, furnished and fully decorated--from the detailed, white trim around the deep red door to the handknit throw-pillows in the den. What was once just a foundation becomes a home, just as you become a unique and educated individual.
For example, you may think that learning about the Battle of the Coral Sea is a waste of time, but it’s like a layer of bricks on a foundation--adding depth and strength. Every new topic ultimately adds to you. Learning exposes you to different perspectives and helps you grow to view the world in your own way. Elementary education, during the formative years K-12, lays a solid foundation and is essential to one’s growth and success later in life. You may never--outside of the full first marking period of freshman year--encounter a situation where you are required to know anything about the Navajo Indians or the Battle of the Coral Sea; however, the purpose of learning about any subject is to gain experience and learn how to learn.
If you are experiencing severe confusion, please do not discount or overlook my previous statement. Let me equate the situation to playing the piano.
Before you can begin to play, you must learn the basics or lay the foundation. You must first uncover the piano, revealing the glossy, black finish of the Steinway grand. Position yourself on the cushioned bench and rest your fingers on the delicate ivory keys; raise your wrists slightly to form a shallow arch in your palm. Then, you must learn the notes--their names, their pitches, and their locations in the sea of black and white before you. Once you become familiar with the instrument, string individual notes together to play a scale. Explore the piano by running your fingers across the smooth keys and gradually increasing the difficulty of your exercises--moving from scales, to arpeggios, to actual songs. With practice, your fingers will dance effortlessly and music will flow. The boring, seemingly unimportant activities such as hand placement, scales, and arpeggios teach you how to play the instrument. You can then apply your knowledge of how to play the piano, to learn more complex and interesting pieces.
The same notion applies to our education and the subjects we are required to learn about. It is essential to learn how to learn about a topic like the Navajo Indians, so we can apply this skill in the “real world”. We must first explore and gain an understanding of the basics before we can move forward in our careers . Elementary, middle, and high school provide us with this understanding and the tools to learn. These years of schooling lead us to become knowledgeable individuals and lay a strong base to build upon.