Awhile ago, I was doing some volunteer work which afforded me the opportunity to meet many different people of all ages and professions. One woman I met was a retired English teacher, and through our time together we discussed the “good old days.” As I headed home, I thought about our conversation and came to the conclusion that some things you learn in school actually do come in handy.
I discussed my quick trip, and she told me of her long commute. I talked about my passion for pop/rock music and she mentioned her love of opera. I spoke of my joy for writing and she recalled memories of her teaching days. She had become infamous for giving her 7th grade students a large paper that accounted for a third of their grade. That sounded very familiar, and I told her how I used to hate when teachers assigned huge, monster reports. The hours spent in the library pouring over dusty books, flipping through some for a mere snippet of information, squinting at the micro-fiche machine for back issues of magazine articles, the ruined weekends, the outlines, the first, second and final drafts, the editing and re-editing…not exactly how a kid or teenager would choose to spend any free time.
When I told her all of this, she answered back that research papers and well-written essays are an important tool to learn. Not only does writing help you through high school and college, but in life in general. Even if you aren’t aiming for a career in journalism, moments come up when at least knowing where to start comes in handy. Business reports, speeches, writing letters; it’s all connected. It’s much like parallel parking; maybe you don’t do it everyday, but if needed, you’ll be glad to have learned it. Till this day, she had students come up to her at random times; thanking her for helping them to develop good writing skills. Then she posed the question to me: “Don’t you use what you’ve learned from English class?” I had to admit defeat on that one.
Not only can I relive my own fading, childhood memories through hilarious and often melodramatic journal entries, but I can go to my cluttered basement downstairs, and if hunting around long enough, I can uncover all of my school reports. Some better than others, some graded generously high and others unfairly low, but I know the feeling of finally completing an assignment. I also know the relief at knowing how to begin a report, how to organize my thoughts, and eventually produce a coherent work about whatever the topic happens to be. In my adult life, I’ve had to give many toasts, too many eulogies, and a few speeches. Though some have been more successful than others, (mostly due to my emotion at the time,) I’ve been complimented on my spoken words. So yes, those horrid, long assignments did help me through the years.
We all know the feeling of having to learn a subject in school that we are certain to never use in real life. When’s the last time most of us needed to know how to find the logarithm of a number? Has anyone asked you to come over some weekend for a frog dissecting party? Perhaps you’ve come across a mugger who spewed, “Your money or your argument comparing and contrasting the two World Wars?!” If train A is leaving for the Hamptons at one o’clock, and your recessive genes donated from your parents have given you blue eyes, then what year was the Gettysburg address given? Okay, maybe I went a bit overboard there, but the fact remains that many of the topics we were forced to learn and got tested on, have been long since forgotten. However, basic skills are not only necessary but they get used in everyday life. Whether it’s figuring out the percentage saved on a sale, knowing not to through water on a grease fire, or pulling out the names of the presidents on Mount Rushmore to win a trivia game, you will be glad to have learned those “useless” subjects.
There are many students out there now, who will become agitated at having to write up a long research paper, or to study for a huge exam on some uninspired topic. Many will go at it half-heartedly, others may find a way to cheat, and the lucky ones will work hard and succeed, no matter what grade they get. My advice to students of all ages is to not take these laborious assignments for granted. They will come in handy, before you know it.