Sunday, June 2, 2013

What’s the point?

Every day students ask.  Why do we have to learn this? When will I ever use it? What’s the point?  For an English teacher the answer is easy:  we practice communication and no matter what future a student yearns for or settles on, their options improve with improved skills.  At present, though, I’m working on a project that gathers up students who have fallen dangerously behind in a course, but could potentially meet the necessary learning outcomes with an intensive supported personalized project over the next few weeks.  I have one student learning about the consequences of reckless sexual decision making (she never asks about relevance), another learning about family and employment laws (he’s finding the information immediately useful), but the student who is studying the evolution of plants stumped me.  What’s the point?

I didn't want to answer (although all these answers are true) that it’s part of the provincial curriculum or “it’ll be on the test” or that learning anything helps us learn everything – or even (so importantly) that understanding basic scientific concepts allows us to make better decisions as citizens.  I wanted to think of something concrete, some reason that I, too, could use immediately.  Why do I want to relearn the evolution of plants?

It didn't take me long.  For me, the knowledge inspires me to believe impossible things again.  My faith in education has been tested:  my return to the classroom immersed me in what I had forgotten - the wide discrepancy between our dreams for students and the reality of schools.  But we are each tried daily: our lives are filled with trials, even tribulations. More troubling, many of the children at our school face challenges that would bring me to my knees. We all need to constantly look about us for the stories that give us hope. It’s too easy to be tangled in trees, to miss the forest, to see only the roadblocks instead of the path, to get mired in today’s missteps and misery rather than seeing the next move.

Consider: if a plant – a plant! – can find a way to migrate from water to the land, then surely anything is possible.

And maybe that's the point.  Maybe everything we learn is to give us one more reason to believe in a meaningful future, no matter how meaningless and chaotic our day-to-day becomes – and more important, to believe in our own power, even when we feel most powerless, to move in a direction that matters.

Photo Credit: citx via Compfight cc

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