Teaching – Part VI: The pleasures of learning and knowing
‘Τι δε μοι πλέον έσται ταύτα μαθόντι;’
A geometry student of Euclid, when he had learnt the first theorem asked Euclid, ‘But what advantage shall I get by learning these things?’
Και ο Ευκλείδης τον παίδα καλέσας — ‘δος αυτώ τριώβολον, επειδή δει αυτώ εξ ων μανθάνει κερδαίνειν.’
Euclid called his slave and said, ‘Give him threepence, since he needs to make a profit out of what he learns.’
— Euclid, Extracts II, 31, 114
This is a common student question: “Sir, will we ever need to use this?”
Quadratic equations, Pythagoras, congruent triangles, square roots. Who has used any of these in adult life? Scientists perhaps. Engineers maybe. Architects at a stretch.
Several times I have tried to give answers to students who ask this question. But none of mine have been as good as the original answer, above, given by the father of geometry, Euclid, in Athens, in 300 BC.
That was the original ‘Here’s 20p. Go and call someone who cares.’ (For those who remember phone-boxes before mobile phones).
Education is valuable for personal and societal development, even when knowledge may not always be directly applied.
1. Cultivation of Critical Thinking: Education develops problem-solving skills, enabling individuals to evaluate information, make informed decisions, and navigate complex situations in life.
2. Broadening Horizons: Education exposes students to a wide range of ideas and cultures, fostering open-mindedness and cultural awareness. It helps individuals appreciate diversity and develop empathy.
3. Personal Growth: Education contributes to personal growth and self-discovery. It empowers individuals to explore their interests, talents, and passions, nurturing their sense of self-worth and identity.
4. Effective Communication: Education improves writing, speaking, and listening, in order to build relationships, resolve conflicts, and convey ideas.
5. Citizenship and Civic Engagement: Education equips individuals with an understanding of societal issues and politics. Informed citizens are more likely to engage in civic activities and contribute to their communities.
6. Lifelong Learning: Education instils a love for learning and the ability to adapt to new challenges throughout life, promoting continuous personal and professional development.
7. Health Literacy: Education enables individuals to make informed decisions about their well-being and navigate the healthcare system effectively.
8. Cultural Preservation: Education helps to preserve cultural heritage and traditions by passing down customs and languages to future generations.
9. Critical Consumption of Information: Education helps individuals sift through vast amounts of data, discern credible sources from misinformation, and become responsible consumers of information.
10. Fulfilment and Enrichment: Knowledge itself is intrinsically valuable, enriching individuals’ lives by providing a deeper understanding of the world, its complexities and beauty. Learning can bring fulfilment and purpose.
‘Two households …’
I once had to cover a Music lesson. The cover work said, “Play the film ‘West Side Story’. Students to describe a song using musical terms.”
I skipped through the movie and played them four songs. Then I played them all again. They wrote their musical terms. Then I asked them to vote for their favourite song.
These were the scores: –
Gee, Officer Krupke 22
I Feel Pretty 0
Then we had ten minutes left. Time to show off. I drew up on the board two columns and called one Romeo and the other Juliet and told the class that West Side Story was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.
Underneath each column I wrote Capulets v. Montagues, Sharks v. Jets, Tony and Maria. I wasn’t sure under which columns the family and gang names should go, but it didn’t matter. I guess that’s the point.