I need to issue an apology. Years ago, while trying to make heads or tails of my geometry homework, I made a statement that I stood by for many years. In exasperation with the futility of my efforts to find the right answer, I threw up my hands and said, "When am I ever going to use this, anyway?"
It's a common question teachers get from students who can't see the connection between the lesson in the book and what they need to know to get through an average day in the "real world."
While I'm sure I have applied those principles of geometry time and time again, it was only recently I truly got that that's what I was doing. Years after completing the course and taking my credit and running, I correctly applied that knowledge to do something I wanted to do. I made a pattern for my glasswork. I could picture in my mind what I wanted to make, but I had been unable to find a pattern so I knew I'd have to do it myself. Out came the compass, ruler and protractor and I went to figuring.
And you know what? It worked.
So, Mrs. Sprouse, my apologies. You were teaching something I would use later in life, and I thank you for helping me gain that knowledge.
This week, students in Cumberland County return to schools, and many of them will find themselves in classes where they may not fully understand why they're learning what they're learning.
English? Communication, both oral and written, is a sought-after skill in the work world. If you can't effectively communicate, you could not only have trouble relaying information to your supervisors and coworkers, you could very well talk yourself out of a job to begin with. Some folks wonder why you need to learn about symbolism and literary theory, and how that's going to serve you later in life, but reading those classic texts help build reading comprehension. The books read also offer a glimpse into the culture of the time and help students understand context and meaning of famous quotes and phrases and build the imagination as those words on the page are transformed into images in our heads.
Basic math? We all need to know how to add and subtract, otherwise we'll get those pesky little letters from the bank telling us we owe them money for overdraft fees. Figuring interest? If you ever borrow money, it's a good idea to know how much that money is going to cost you. But what about those advanced math equations and principles?
Geometry is more than the study of angles and circles. It teaches you how to calculate the surface area of an object or find the volume of a container. For those working on home improvement projects, that's good to know how to do before you buy your supplies and then find out at the end that you don't have enough paint to cover that wall or you're three square feet short on your flooring and, oops, it's a special order product and you'll have to wait three weeks to get more.
Algebra is another one of my whipping subjects. Of course, I always enjoyed the history and English subjects. Those subjects played to my strengths. Math was numbers. And numbers aren't words, even when you've got enough letters signifying numbers in an equation to spell out a complete sentence.
I confess, I haven't had to graph an equation since I was about 17 years old, and that's still not far enough in the past to suit me, but I've used algebra since those school days. Those math classes also help build problem solving skills and develop logical thinking — and everyone needs those things. And while calculators help to solve math problems, if you don't understand how equations are structured or what numbers to use, you can't enter the right data to get the right answer.
I hope all teachers and students have a fantastic school year. Study hard and, even if you don't know why you need to learn something today, trust that some day, some where, it will come to your aid.
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Heather Mullinix is the assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published each Tuesday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.