You are in your grade 10 geometry class. This lesson is on how to find the radius of a circle.
In case you haven’t found the radius of a circle in a while, here is a little refresher:
The radius of a circle is r = c / (2 * π). To find the radius of a circle from its diameter, the equation would be r = d / 2.
The teacher instructs the class to solve question three on page 456 and her students comply, finding the radius of the little printed circle in their math workbooks. She is happy to have a few moments of silence while the class works, when that one kid, let’s call him Billy, throws down his pencil, raises his hand with mocking disinterest, and asks:
“When will we ever use this in real life?”
Everyone has either been Billy or hated Billy for interrupting class time to ask a question that always gets the same answer.
The teacher, let’s call her Mrs. Know, is frustrated but takes this moment as her opportunity to impart the true importance of geometry, the whole reason why she wakes up in the morning to teach math to 15-year-olds.
“You will use this”, she says, and follows up with an in-depth example of how radiuses could be useful for a construction project he might someday execute in a DIY home renovation.
A less than stunning display of passion for mathematics to impart on the youth.
Billy rolls his head back and begrudgingly scribbles away at his workbook. He acts this way in every class. It’s his way of slowing down the lesson and avoiding work. But why does he want to avoid the lesson in the first place? What made him disdain math so much?
Billy used to love learning as a young child. At three years old, he lit up learning the names of dinosaurs, sharks, trains, and clouds. As an infant, Billy absorbed the complex facial expressions of his parents and learned the intricacies of language and communication.
Now he only learns something new if he is told to and races home to play video games until his mom tells him to finish his homework.
Spoiler alert, the homework is more radiuses.
Let’s look at another teacher’s answer to the same question.
In the seventh grade, a teacher of mine answered the same exact question, but with a much different response. Let’s call him Mr. Think.
“When will we ever use this in real life?”
Mr. Think said:
“Maybe never. School is not meant to teach you what to know, it is meant to teach you how to think. This lesson will develop your critical thinking skills.”
He did not grasp for a practical use for his lesson or qualify why we must learn radiuses in order to become good adults.
Mr. Think understood the ideal function of school. There is too much knowledge in the world for one school to ever dictate what information a person should acquire. Whatever a school chooses to include in its curriculum necessitates leaving something else out.
Mr. Think believed his job was not to load students down with beliefs and information he deemed important, but to turn his pupils into critical thinkers.
This is a nice sentiment, and Mr. Think was a gem among dud teachers, but he was fighting a losing battle.
In an ideal world, schools would build up good thinkers and foster young people’s excitement and curiosity, but in reality, they do the exact opposite.
The structure of the American school system suppresses critical thinkers.
Critical thinkers despise traditional school.
The pupil who thinks critically also disrupts class, challenges the instructor, and rebels against the institution out to control them. They are shot down and dismissed by instructors who are too focused on classroom management and test scores to foster any real learning.
The result is a baby-sat classroom full of yes-men in training. They are surface-level thinkers that regurgitate just enough information to get a good grade and please the instructor. After the semester they purge whatever test answers they were storing in their short-term memory. They carry this existence into college, jobs, and relationships.
They interact with the world on a superficial level.
These drained students are incapable of learning or thinking and enter the world with limited knowledge and weak reasoning skills. They are born as a machine designed to learn, but leave school with an utter disdain for it, and therefore stagnate in their personal development.
The main lesson the American school system teaches students is conformity.
“If I get good grades, I can go to college so I can get a good job.”
Let’s revisit Mrs. Know’s response to “When will we ever use this in real life?”:
“You will use this.”
By deluding the value of important subjects, the school system coddles students and denies them ways to sharpen thinking skills and deepen understanding.
Learning math as a child is not important because it will be particularly useful to you as an adult. Convincing children of this only pushes them to disdain math more.
So why should children learn math?
Mathematical thinking changes a developing brain by strengthening concrete, logical, and spatial reasoning. When you solve a math problem, your brain creates connections and recognizes patterns, which in turn improves critical and creative thinking. Learning mathematics as an adolescent sharpens one’s mind and develops problem-solving skills that will help with future endeavors.
But we aren’t told that in school. Instead, we are told we must study math because the quadratic formula will be important later and we must do what is assigned to us.
Students should not be compelled to learn for the utility of the knowledge being transferred, but because learning is what they are designed to do.
Billy hasn’t been motivated to learn anything new for years now, and a part of him doesn’t believe that he could teach himself something new. So when Billy graduates and finds that the missing piece in his life is learning, what can he do to reclaim his purpose?
How can he de-school himself and undo the years of undermining experiences from his adolescence?
Here is what Billy needs to do to remove his mental block and develop a passion and desire to learn just for learning’s sake:
- Eliminate entertainment. Entertainment is a time suck. It shuts off your critical thinking and drowns out your thoughts. Put down your phone, shut off the TV, and power down the computer. Take some time to be alone with your thoughts.
- Identify what you are curious about. It could be anything! Look out into the world. What sparks excitement? Write down what interests you about certain topics.
- Research. Find people who talk about the things you want to learn. Watch youtube videos, read blogs, and follow tutorials. Learn through trial and error, fail, and get better!
- Read everything. Read anything that catches your interest. Reading strengthens connections in the brain, improves memory and concentration, and studies show reading may even help you live longer.
- Learn out loud. Share what you are learning on a blog, youtube video, social media post, or in your community. It will keep you accountable, and you could even connect with people who have a growth mindset or are interested in what you are learning.
You don’t have to learn geometry, but if you want to reteach mathematics to yourself, it would have a monumental effect on your brain!
In this digital age, you can teach yourself anything your heart desires.
Brain anatomy? There’s a youtube video for that.
Coding? There’s a blog for it.
Graphic design, marketing, SEO, physics – the list goes on and on.
Rid yourself of the block that school built around thinking and learning.
You were made for this.