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In High School, why do I learn so many irrelevant subjects?

Tell me why I need to understand and learn Calculus, or even parts of Biology and History that has no relevance to the Real World. I'm very frustrated with this, please clearly answer why I need to learn what I learn.

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    Nov 29 2011: Calculus:
    The reason that you study math is not just about knowing how to solve equations. It's a tool that you can use in very various subjects. If you learn basic physics you can easily understand and explain why we insulate our homes, use seatbelt in cars and etc. It is also important to know that you might change your mind about what subjects you like, for a few years ago a thought I had my last math course and know I'm using math every day in university. :-)

    Biology:
    I had an extremely good teacher in biology in upper secondary school and can now understand the cell, evolution, and ecosystems very well. What happens if we cut down the Amazonas? How does the evolution work?

    History:
    It's important because if it isn't studied, how can we learn from our mistakes? And it can also give answers to some very basic questions, for example: Why did some cultures become much more advanced several hundreds or thousands year before others? Why are some countries much richer than others today? But by studying history you will also learn source criticism which is very important nowadays when it is very easy to find and create information.

    By studying various subjects you will also be able to sort out information and make it understandable for others by text and orally.

    It is easy to believe that school just teaches narrow solutions and descriptions of very specific problems but sooner or later you will realize that what you learn are tools that can be applied in almost every field. So that's why the subjects you brought up has great relevance to the real world, how can you else understand it?
    • Nov 29 2011: I like the subjects, it just all seems irrelevant and common knowledge from trial and error. I understand the Cell, but know I don't even know anymore because we discuss the energy of the cell and how it works, I mean it's cool and all... but Why not learn of Daf-2? The aging receptor, or other specific cells that if mutated, can make us stronger, or live longer? I do my research on my own and have discovered what religion truley was, and how mighty empires fell and rose. Why am I not learning how to become good friends with the Middle East, China, other countries to help us come together now?
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        Nov 30 2011: Those are very good questions, have you asked any of them to your teachers? And if they can't help you learn about those things it's great that your doing it on your own. Sometimes it is necessary to find the missing connection to reality on your own as Nicholas says.

        (Bonus question: What would happen if all the worlds population started to eat as much meat as in for example the U.S?)
        • Nov 30 2011: I have talked to my teachers and...

          Bouns Question Answer--The World's population is already way too high! There would only be a select few countries that could buy meats. Many people would have to rely on other protein sources... It would be very bad, America MUST change their ways!
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        Nov 30 2011: Blake,

        Check out the terms: democratic education, critical thinking, fuzzy logic and transhumanism (terminologies that are good ideas to consider here.)

        A quote:

        “We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind - mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the preempting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality. “ - Edward Albee (1966)

        I take two things from this quote: a. the vicious cycle of ignorant educations in America is nothing new and b. everyone should be a writer/artist + teacher + Whatever it is the hell they want to be (Why? Because one would be intra-personal hobbies/skills and one is communal, need both to be well rounded.)

        We live in a culture that says you need to master one thing, it's bullshit. I tell every kid my age going into a science field to take up writing (science) fiction and nonfiction short stories.

        I'm not telling you what to do here, but you have options those educators aren't telling you and I'm saying you need to go out, find them and not wait for a motivator - self motivate.

        I wish someone told me this earlier on in school.
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    Dec 5 2011: You've identified some really broad and important subjects as "irrelevant" to the Real World! Calculus has been described as the language of the universe because its concepts are so widely applicable. Biology is directly relevant to each and every one of us at the very least because it's about how our bodies work. History is tremedously important because so many present-day happenings are really just repeats of past events with new faces.

    There's another thing to consider, too: a huge part of studying any subject is to learn to think and perceive in new ways. Studying different subjects in detail helps you do this.

    Speaking in your defense, I can say I've taken a number of courses on subjects that seemed really irrelevant at the time, but I later discovered the sense of irrelevance had more to do with how it was taught. Hang in there. Ask good questions of your teachers. (Hint: "When are we ever going to need this?" is not a good question!) If there is something you are really interested in, pursue that deeply and pretty soon you'll discover the connections to those other subjects you thought had no relevance.

    When I was in high school, I was intensely interested in electronics, but my school offered nothing in that area. So, I read all the books I could on the subject, did experiments and built electronic projects to build knowledge and skills, and that has turned into a wonderfully fulfilling career for me that grew to encompass most of the subjects I learned in high school.

    On a side note, one of the subjects I now wish I could have studied in high school is philosophy, which is a subject vilified probably more than all others as being irrelevant. I now realize just how profound that subject is, and how we all carry with us philosophical ideas and perspectives that color how we perceive the world but often don't realize it.
    • Dec 5 2011: Good points, but honestly, after I learn about everything... I just forget it... Most of the things we learn are just memorization and I have no idea what I learned a week ago! I do study... A Lot... have good grades, but I really can't afford to spend 40-50 hours on School when pretty soon I will be paying for my insurance and such... And also...

      Kind of off topic...
      If you are to consider school a full time job--I've learned in Intro to Business that you should take a job that you are passionate, happy, and are positive about. School is the exact opposite of that! I hate it, it takes up almost all my time, and how am i supposed to have an actual job and an amazing girlfriend?

      I have tried so many times to be positive about school, and by 6th hour(last class)... I find everything that I did that day, a waste of time! And then i think negatively...
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    Dec 2 2011: If you really want an answer, you need to tell us exactly what you plan to do with the rest of your life, all the options you will be faced with and the decisions you will need to take. Since you are not in a position to do that for yourself, why would you expect a curriculum designer to be able to do it for thousands of students? The best that can be done is to provide you with a reasonable selection of the tools that are likely to be useful to a wide range of people. You can't really dismiss any of those tools as useless until you are on your deathbed.

    I don't work in a mathematical area but I use maths a lot.
    I don't work in a scientific area but I use chemistry and physics from time to time. I also use physics for my hobbies.
    I don't work with languages but I find them useful socially.
    I wish I'd been taught anatomy and physiology and art and music.....

    I couldn't have told you that would be the case when I was a student. It still surprises me how much of my education is relevant to life - and also how many things I wish I'd had the opportunity to learn.
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    Nov 30 2011: Same here (just taking a break from studying logarithms....) I agree that up to some level of maths is necessary as it teaches us logical thinking,but logarithms,compex number,trigonometry..? i cant see how it will help me later on in my life. As for biology it makes us understand how our bodies work etc.. and by learning history we learn how to make good decisions from examining the common mistakes made before,it also helps us understand both our own nation,culture and other countries cultures.However i think they should teach students how to think independantly,critically , make them aware of their talents/skills and lead them into that direction.This way we can know more about ourselves,which will help us a lot for the rest of our life,there will be happier citizens in the society,therefore make better,more peaceful,successful nations.
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    Nov 29 2011: it all does apply. i dont mean in college or in a job, it applies in real life, all the things around you were built becuase of this stuff. what schools need to teach is how its all connected. what do you think the objective of schools currenty is? -- what do you think it should be?
    • Nov 30 2011: I think that the current objective is to show us a broad, yet deep understanding into many subjects. I think that you should choose your own classes during High School, maybe take business freshman year, stay with it if you like/love it, or try something new. I think that if a student like me, already knows what he/she wants to do, there should be some sort of schooling based around certain subjects.
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    Nov 29 2011: Calculus:
    The basics are needed for all simple things financial.
    Advanced: depending on what you wish to become: might be less used later on.

    Though if you ever want to understand this world (not just a set of rules of thumb), you'll eventually need to understand calculus, biology and history. I't all part of this big thing we call reality. Though not all knowledge has practical purpose (and not for everybody)... I would not expect from education to keep people stupid (and only provide some practical guidelines for how human life and society is organised to make you fit in).
  • Nov 29 2011: Well Blake, that's not an easy question as far as I'm concerened.I believe the reason one learns such "useless" things as you call them is actually to expand your view on the world. Classes such as the IB's ToK or another course's Logic 101 also seem trivial at first. On closer inspection, however, they exist to open your mind. The same can be said of these seemingly redundant courses. Another reason could be to give you more time to change your mind on your future. I know many people who have, half way through high school, changed their majors and completely swapped courses because they got a better view of a subject they never quite understood.
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    Dec 5 2011: Blake,

    As others have noted, this is your opportunity to absorb as much information as you possibly can, while you can, and that such information will help give you the foundational background for further studies in specific fields. I've also read this thread, and noted your objections. Therefore, I am going to proffer some alternative suggestions, which haven't been mentioned. However, please consider them very carefully, as they each tend towards a one-way street -- once you engage them, there may be no going back.

    1. Get your GED. This is functionally the same as a high school diploma, and having it will enable you to save the few years of high school I am surmising you have left, giving you the chance to enter the workforce sooner, and not have to take those icky subjects you presently feel bear no relevance.

    2. Look into alternate education options available in your school district. I do not know the state of education in Minnesota, but here in Wichita, there are alternative schools for students who may not fit in with the standardized norms of education. One such school is an independent studies high school system. The other is a magnet school system, which allows students to focus on their specific field, provided the school itself is geared towards it. For example, there is a law magnet, a science magnet, and an arts magnet. However, even within the alternative systems, there may be some subjects you will be required by state law to study.

    If such options do not exist, consider contacting the school board with the proposal that such a school be developed.

    3. Ask your principal or guidance counselor if you can develop your own learning program. This was available in Middle School here, and was known as AtL -- short for Autonomous Learning. In essence, it boiled down to several hours a day in the school library, studying topics of personal interest, and writing reports showing that you were in fact staying busy and not just goofing off.

    Best of luck!
  • Dec 2 2011: Hi Anne,
    I just have a few questions for you...

    1) Are you using math that includes any of the following; Imaginary numbers, quadratics, solving f(g(x)) or g(f(x)), (f/g(x)), and even finding the area within a graphed area? Or is your math generic higher algebra and geometry?
    Right now I'm learning all of this "imaginary math" while I should be going more in depth about Higher Algebra.

    2)I love biology, it comes down to the following; Why am I putting in at least 7 hours in a week into a class that focuses on parts of the cells that most don't even know about, and Why don't i learn MORE important things about it? I understand that it is building blocks, but that is as far as we get, so it makes it pointless to just stop.

    3)In my life I have NEVER used another language outside of school, unless I'm joking around and saying stupid things with friends...

    4)"I wish I'd been taught anatomy and physiology and art and music....." I wish I was taught how to harness solar power and or wave power to create electricity for a house... Also, I wish I was taught more about astronomy. Why can't I choose this field?

    5) I know what I want to do, and I have many back up plans.... so why can't I do what I want to do in school and maybe earn college credit towards some subjects in college?
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      Dec 4 2011: Blake, as a consultant I normally work with a broad range of management skills. This includes working with technical specialists, so I need to be able to hold an intelligent conversation with them about what they are doing. That can include a very wide range of maths topics. Equation solving (quadratic and otherwise), calculations equivalent to graphical areas,tensor analysis, probability, set manipulation, are all commonplace basic knowledge. Can't remember when I last used imaginary numbers, but it's a fairly simple concept.

      Biology - if school is teaching you the basic blocks, they're giving you the tools to go and follow up on your own specific interests. Where I've done personal research / education, I've always found it easier if I've been taught the basics.

      Language - have you no desire to travel, or communicate with people from other countries? Or read books or watch films or videos that haven't been translated into English? Or learn from specialists from other countries? If I do a quick check of my Facebook page, I can find posts in 15 different languages. I did 2 years of Latin at school, which might sound pretty useless but it helps me with 3 of those languages directly, and what it taught me about language structure helps with the others, along with Google Translate. I would hate to be trapped in a single language bubble, and I envy people who are fluent in multiple languages.

      'I wish.....' Some of the subjects I wish I'd been taught I have studied independently. Astronomy wasn't taught at my school but that didn't stop me reading up on it. The curriculum didn't allow me to do history as well as my other subjects so I did a deal with the head of history which allowed me to study independently and take the exams. Anatomy and physiology I learned when I became interested in sport - something I'd never have predicted at school.

      What you want to do is not necessarily what someone will be prepared to pay you to do. Broad education keeps your options open.
  • Dec 2 2011: I personally believe that not all subjects are relevant to all students, but as you grow your ideas and understanding of the world grows too, and you'll never know where you'll be in the next twenty years. For all you know one of these subjects may be relevant to you in one way or another. Never complain that you get the chance to learn, be glad that you have the opportunity to expand your mind, and have the chance to explore all these different, and uniquely wondrous subjects.
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    Dec 2 2011: I agree that high school subjects can be incredibly boring. For me, there was a disconnect from the subjects that I assume you are feeling as well. If something feels pointless or irrellevant then it becomes boring because there is no motivation or curiosity spurring us on. High school, I am guessing, is a very difficult time for a lot of students because the majority of what you are learning is considered foundational. I might be parroting a bit here, but the different classes allow you to learn other more advanced or specialized subjects, not to mention function well within society. We don't understand our own ignorance until after the fact, something I'm reminded of daily and most likely for the rest of my life. Good luck finding your niche.
  • Nov 30 2011: Relevance is a difficult concept. You must learn to walk before you can dance. There is a difference between being personally not enamored of a subject matter and it being relevant later in life. I become very frustrated when I meet young people in college who do not have the most basic understanding of history because then I cannot help them learn how the inter-relatedness of different countries leads us to where we are today. We cannot learn how to get along with our neighbors until we understand why we don't already. The past has weight.

    I believe physics is the science of the future, the science that will shortly change everything. If you cannot understand ALL of how its component parts work - see Garret Lisse's theory of everything - you cannot grasp the big picture. You think you want the big picture without worrying over the details. Physics will change everything and it will be found in understanding a foundation of biology and calculus.

    Two of todays greatest physicists sat together in a high school physics class. I question is the greatest physicist those who came from that class or the person who taught them both?

    The US system is *currently* over focused on testing and memorization and failing at critical thinking. So grab what is offered at the buffet instead of rejecting it as not being worthy of your time and capacity. Think outside the quadrilateral parallelogram. It may be that someday when you consider the fall of the roman empire and the structure of a quartz molecule that you will see why international currencies cannot function.
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    Nov 29 2011: The subjects aren't irrelevant, but the topics aren't taught interchangeably between subjects, thus they appear irrelevant.

    Academia curricula is designed for testing a crop of students and not individual attention or intelligence. There is no time to tell you how all of these subjects relate to life, which is why this education system sucks the big one. Among many more reasons...

    The system sucks, reform is needed. Until then... you are responsible for creating your own education and if you have these feelings towards your classes create the bridges into life yourself to find relevance.

    I do not believe your question is new.
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    Nov 29 2011: think about that. as of now, they teach the same things to everyone. in your class, there is one guy who will be an engineer. so they teach calculus. one will be doctor or biologist. so they teach biology. one of them will be politician or lawyer or historian. so they teach history.

    for further information, you can check

    http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html

    http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

    http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_using_our_practical_wisdom.html
    • Nov 29 2011: I understand what you are getting at, yet... I am wasting my time just so I can go to college. I spend at least 45 hours a week on school, while I could be out teaching myself (which works 10 times better), and creating or finding a new way to make green energy, write a business plan, and go out in the community to help others. Thanks for the response, but I still do not understand why I get taught all of this random junk that I have never used in my life. Also, another debate I will start up soon, is; I get taught all of this stuff, but it is just memorization, memorization, memorization. It is 2nd quarter and I have no idea what I learned in 1st quarter...
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        Nov 29 2011: i didn't say i agree with that system. i just explained why it is that way. in my opinion, they should not teach everyone the same thing. we should get rid of majority if not all of the unnecessary and bureaucratic regulations, and let schools differ and parents choose.
        • Nov 30 2011: Yes! Thank you! I think it should be up to both parents and the students to come up with their OWN way of learning or choosing a specific field to learn about.
  • Nov 29 2011: The thing is that I understand the multiple subjects I am taught, but I look in on my parents; My mom is an entreprenuer and my father is a Remodeler. They never use Precalculus, Calculus, Higher math, Biology, History, and so on. They may use Higher Algebra or Geometry, but never use Certain maths or History, or even Biology to do their work. I want to be an Entreprenuer one day and I have already set up my own business plan. None of which have required school skills, except discipline and common sense.
    Thank you for your response, please respond to this
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      Dec 4 2011: Blake, if you put your business plan in front of me, there's a high chance that I wouldn't read beyond the first paragraph. I would certainly be reluctant to fund your proposal. Why? Carelessness and lack of consistency, if your business plan bears a resemblance to your posts here. It may sound picky, but an investor will be picky. After all, you will be asking them to risk money on you.

      With my 'picky investor' hat on, what am I seeing?

      You expect a tailored programme designed for you from an organisation created to provide generic education to a wide range of pupils who will need to sit established exams in order to become qualified.

      You don't value languages, and you don't take care in writing your own language. 'Entrepreneur' is derived from French but has been widely adopted in English speaking countries, retaining the French spelling.

      You don't see the role of language in promoting friendship with other countries

      You are jumping to the conclusion that aspirations based on todays world will still be valid and achievable ten and twenty years in the future, despite the fact that we are experiencing unprecedented rates of change.

      You don't like doing stuff you consider boring, but few if any business ventures succeed unless the necessary boring stuff is handled as well as the interesting stuff.

      You don't seem to be aware that the things other people want from you may not be the things you find interesting to do.

      This may sound harsh, but investors will be harsh in assessing proposals. When your business plan is in competition with dozens of others for funding, what will put you ahead is giving the investor the information they need, not just focusing on the areas that interest you.
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    Nov 29 2011: HI Blake, Every generation of high school students feels the same way. I certainly did.
    I do feel a better job of communicating the 'why' and of illustrating what it applies to could be done. I do however, have to assure you that some of the courses that I took that I hated the most and that I had no appreciation of their relevance turned out to be the most relevant, believe it or not. I had to take a geography course as an undergrad in university and I hated it but I use that knowledge on a practical day to day basis as a regular citizen. Calculus became vital for future courses. History is something I read now for pleasure and it really makes me aware of why the world is now as it is especially politically.
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    Nov 29 2011: Students have rights to choose what they want to learn, but the subjects are chosen based on their limited experiences.