“This Subject Is of No Value to Me”

How many times have you wondered, “Why do they make us learn this?” when confronted with a course for which you can see no earthly use? Driver training is a subject whose immediate value is obvious, but when it comes to many other things, like required mathematics, English, or history, the values become more obscure.

The ruling about each separate required course has been passed upon by many people: school board members, educators, legislators, parents, and specialists in educational research. Each decision is backed up by fairly good evidence.
One reason why certain subjects are required is that fundamental schooling has a benefit for society as a whole. There is a welding effect among people who have a common educational background.

For another reason, there is clear evidence that unless a person is introduced to some areas of knowledge in a formal way, he may never know they exist, and may consequently bypass a field in which he might have excelled as a professional. Many of the voluntary shifts from one major to another in college add to the evidence favoring a broad training that lets a person choose what suits him most.

Still another reason is that certain basic subjects are believed to balance the many sides of one’s personality and permit more relationships and connections to be made later on. This is thought to increase one’s chances for happiness. A subject one is forced to take now may prove to be the very one which decides your future for you by opening a hitherto closed door.

Fundamental courses required of everyone are also good pace-makers and screening devices. If a poor student has slipped in from a weak high school, with a record that looks good on paper, the required first-year courses will identify him. Since there are so many opportunities to test students in the basic required courses and to compare the results from year to year, a poor student cannot claim that something is wrong with the teacher or the textbook or the other conditions involved. He cannot deny that he had the same opportunities as all other students.

Such a system may seem rather impersonal, but it is a kind of insurance to prevent an entire nation from slipping downhill. In theory, our system is designed to raise the level of all the people and open up wider vistas for a deeper enjoyment of life. It gives breadth and depth to the mind. It encourages some creativeness so that each generation can contribute its share to progress of all kinds. Knowing many things increases self-confidence. Knowing the world around us strengthens our ability to solve life’s problems.

In one way or another, society creates tangible incentives by heightening interest in material things. But the collections of human beings called societies are also interested in more than material things. There is a decided zest to life which comes from doing things well and getting credit for it! Material rewards are the rewards easiest to measure, but the rewards of a “full life” are nevertheless present, although harder to see and to place a quantitative value upon. We might call these satisfactions the joy which brightens our lives.

If you cannot clarify your incentives and focus upon them, you should discuss this problem with a counselor, not because there is anything seriously wrong, particularly, but because you should start at the beginning rather than try to proceed blindly. Low motivation triples or quadruples the task of self-education.

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