By Scott Sullivan
Learning is lifelong. Just when I thought I knew all my deficiencies, a fellow writer taught me I had wasted my education on abstruse knowledge when civics and home economics were all I needed.
His point — that schools should not neglect teaching kids everyday-living basics, like how to balance a checkbook, in favor of theory-based subjects like algebra and geometry — rang true. What I’d not learned is they are mutually exclusive.
He was calling for civics and home ec to be school-required subjects. I agreed; they have value. What learning doesn’t? Where I disconnected was thinking he’d over-made his point, dissing other disciplines by comparison.
Algebra, meaning in Arabic “the reunion of broken parts,” is per Wikipedia “the unifying thread of almost all mathematics.” It includes everything from elementary equation-solving — I’d guess balancing checkbooks might fit here somewhere —to the study of abstractions such as groups, rings, and fields.
Geometry, from the Greek geo-, “earth,” and metron, “measurement,” is concerned with questions of shape, size, relative position of figures, and the properties of space. Point, line, plane, distance, angle, curve, surface … geometry’s concepts apply to art, architecture, physics and other fields that enrich our living.
Theories, i.e. “plausible general principles offered to explain phenomena,” are key to the scientific process. Why should schools teach that?
The less I thought, the more it made sense to me to dump all of them. Single-celled primates have limited brains for learning. The 17 years between kindergarten and college by so fast teachers must prioritize. What in means more in the end: toilet training or calculus? You decide.
We can travel to distant planets, but sans civics don’t know where to vote. Or care. We can split the atom but not our ballots. Where do we learn how to manage a credit card if we don’t take home ec?
All higher — as opposed to “hire” — education does is confuse our heads. Look how well Robert Fulghum did writing the bestseller “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” thanks to dropping out after that.
Only fools put their lives in the hands of surgeons who’ve squandered their minds studying radiology, neurology and so on instead of learning in home economics how to use a credit card. No wonder they don’t have a dime to spend.
Can human minds harbor multiple forms of knowledge? Boy, would that screw up politics. All psychology taught me was how messed up I am. Art was a waste too; my three-your-old paints better than Picasso. If ignorance is bliss, we should be ecstatic.
When I was in school, girls took home ec en route to careers as housewives. Guys took shop so we could be breadwinners and/or fix what we broke. But we weren’t that backwards.
For three weeks girls had the same opportunity boys did to cut off their thumbs with band saws. In home ec guys had to make breakfasts to serve our parents. I didn’t learn much about cooking, dumping three tablespoons — not teaspoons — of salt in the pancake batter. But watching Mom and Dad force down the end product taught me lots about being a parent, which I valued later.
In civics we learned the three branches of government, separation of powers, checks and balances … things every president since then has tried to circumvent. We learned what the legal drinking age was that we were ignoring.
“You’re going to college to be a writer?” my dad asked, wearing the same look as after pancakes. He was right. But it’s never too late to try something new.
“I have just one word for you, Scott,” my counselor said. “Zooplankton.
“There’s a great future in learning how legions of these tiny creatures rise each night to the ocean’s surface to feed on equally-tiny plants, then sink back at dawn into deep, dark water.”
“You don’t say, although you just did. But why?”
“Because their migration plays a key role in removing CO2 from the atmosphere and confining it deep in the ocean, where it doesn’t add to global warming.”
“Global warming’s a hoax. believes that crap?”
“Crap it is,” he agreed. “Seems CO2 from the atmosphere diffuses into the ocean’s surface, where the tiny plants use it for photosynthesis. Zooplankton eat them, retreat to the depths to digest the food, release the carbon when they poop.
“Fascinating,” I said.
“Too abstruse though. Zzz …”
“Wait, there’s more. This carbon conveyor belt is so vital to our planet’s climate that scientists want millions of dollars to study it from space.”
“Millions?” That got my attention. If I studied zooplankton, maybe I’d finally have use for what’s been a theory so far: balancing my checkbook.
So I’m all for civics and home ec being school requirements. Add zooplanktonology, we’ll be set.