The Catalyst

Why Teach Fish to Climb Trees?

Kacey Craig, Staff Writer

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I asked ten students the following questions:

What are pronouns?

3/10 students answered correctly.

How high can you go on your multiplication tables?

6/10 students could reach the standard level of 12.

Who was fourth president?

No one answered correctly.

What is the difference between effect and affect?

1/10 people answered correctly.

When do you use a semicolon?

4/10 people answered correctly.

It became obvious after my fifth interview that what is assumed to be simple information was widely unknown. Grammatical errors and mathematical mistakes became so common that accurate information was considered strange. These were intelligent, experienced students who’d been in school for over eight years.

So what’s the problem?

Why are these mistakes so regularly made?

Students everywhere are taught the same way: come to class, pay attention, don’t talk while the teacher is talking, leave, do your homework and turn it in on time. Then repeat for the rest of our primary and secondary years of education. It’s supposed to be effectual, it’s supposed to be essential and yet. . .

The board must not have taken into account students’ unimpressive memory skills. How many of you can actually remember what you ate for breakfast yesterday? Two days ago? So how are we supposed to remember how to combine elements or the formula for the volume of a cylinder, things that are not usually used on a daily basis? It’s like teaching fish to climb trees. Students don’t walk around contemplating the evolution of cells and probably never will.

Why are the education boards teaching students things they will never use?

Well, in some classes it’s not about what you’re actually learning but beyond that, the bigger picture. For example, in geometry, while these extensive lessons on proofs may seem unnecessary, they teach students how to critically think and see beyond what was hand-fed to them. Is the information you were given true, why? What can you learn from it? In life you are constantly given new information and are expected to fill in the blanks.

But that’s proofs, a 10th grade lesson. That doesn’t account for all the thousands of other forgotten lessons such as calculating neutrons or a specific battle in the French Revolution. At some point students start learning just to learn. We struggle through high school so that we can get into a good college and struggle some more. Then we get thrown into a world of taxes and bills. But don’t worry, as long as you know what a neutron is you’ll be fine.

So what do we do? How do we stop this endless cycle of useless information?

Well Mrs Dean, the English department chair for Harrison High School, may have the solution.

“When I was in college and when I was in high school I had to do a lot of memorization and a lot of that I have never used and I have thus completely forgotten and the times that I do need to use it I feel like I could just look a lot of that stuff up on Google because we have such ready access to information now.” She went on to say, “I think that in school we need to be teaching more critical thinking. How to find information and what I think is really important is not just how to find it but how to decipher between valid and credible information and stuff that is false because what I see is a lot of people read things online and hear things and think that they’re true when they’re really coming from unreliable sources online.”

An education that incorporates the considerable increase in the use of technology and not just warns against it? Interesting… and necessary. After all, life is too short to stress over purposeless things.  


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Why Teach Fish to Climb Trees?