H.S., B.S. or one and the same?
You often hear students ask their teachers, “How will learning this benefit me later on in life?” This question is usually followed by the teacher mustering up an explanation of how subject X will be of use later on, even though it is a far stretch from the truth. I’ve asked this question a million times, and even though I have been assured of the usefulness of cursive, making a Styrofoam solar system and playing “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder, I remained skeptical.
By far the absolute worst time of my high school career was the first semester of my senior year. I am sure many of you felt the same way. Two words: college applications.
Those numerous college essays plus the pressure of keeping my grades up made me want to tear my hair out. Many an all-nighter was pulled. So, after clicking the final send button on my college apps, pulling a handful of As out of god-knows-where, and many sleep-deprived nights, I had no tolerance for B.S. high school subjects like…birdcalls.
At the end of my final semester, my ecology teacher decided to delight my class and I by teaching her favorite subject: birds. She found bird songs and bird mating calls super interesting. So, in my final stage of high school, I was expected to learn 30 birds’ songs and mating calls and match them to the name and picture of the bird.
The amount of knowledge I have on bird mating calls infuriates me. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure that knowing the precise mating call of the African dwarf kingfisher is important to someone in some part of the world, but I simply found myself immune to the thrill of matching call to bird.
By the time I graduated, I realized I was able to drop serious bird knowledge at the drop of a hat, yet I had no idea how to write a check, manage a stock portfolio or change a tire. Something’s wrong with that. Actually, my favorite classes and teachers in high school were the ones that taught me about life, not scholastic subjects.
Sure, these classes went under different pseudonyms—Mrs. QRS’s AP Literature and Composition, Mr. XYZ’s AP U.S. History—but, at the end of the day, their subject was life, and those were the classes I loved and learned the most from. They reassured me that life was not all about memorizing the presidents in order or knowing how to keep an egg from breaking when thrown off a rooftop. As well as educating me on the subjects that my school found most important, my English and history teachers had conversations with my class about everything from the latest American political issue to job interview etiquette to inner peace and self-respect. It felt really satisfying to learn lessons that benefited my state of mind, not just my transcript.
Flash forward to now, where I am entering freshman year at Washington University. I’m pretty stoked, because I can basically learn anything and everything I want. I love the fact that we have a variety of “numeracy” credits that allow me to skirt around taking a much-loathed “real” math class. It feels like I can now learn things that I care about and that will shape me as an adult. I have a very good feeling about Wash. U. I have a very good feeling about this year in general, and I hope all of you do, too.