I recall my Son asking me this question when he was repeatedly asked to solve some complex math problems day-in and day-out. This was during his 10th grade. I had then redirected him to his Math teacher as I felt I was not competent to answer his question as I myself had these questions when I was his age.
His math teacher was not as convincing in her answer and was no different from mine. Her answer went something like “I know this is boring and seems very dull at the moment, but you must remember you might someday need it. You wouldn’t know yet which career you are going to choose so you might not see the relevance of all these drills. You might go into a profession where it will be really necessary one day and then you cannot be under-prepared can you?”
The answer was not satisfying and convincing enough for my son went about this agonizing path with utter lack of motivation.
I must say that most teachers do not know how to respond to such a question. Either they lie, which even they know or they avoid a direct and clear answer, expecting that the child’s doubt will one day resolve itself if by chance he encounters a profession where he will need those skills.
You all by now know that you have only a few thousands who are really making use of integrals, or division of polynomials. This is not just a case with a subject like math. It is also of many other subjects of which the child will carry a doubt.
The fact that my son lived with such questions was confirmed when he asked me a similar question when he was in his Med school. He asked me wondering why he needs to learn about subjects like orthopedics, ENT, Surgery during his under-grad days when those are mostly specialist subjects you take up while you pursue your post-grad.
This time I was wise and better prepared to respond. I said “you have to take these subjects as similar to what weight training and calisthenics are to a game of football. If you really want to be a player at the competitive level, you got to do these boring drills repetitively and find them pointless at times. You won’t see football players running around with truck tires tied to their waist while playing football do you? Neither do you find them placing traffic cones in the middle of the field and running zig zag between them. You do see however that as a player you will use strength, speed and flexibility which you have gained by doing those boring drills, week after week to keep you fit and healthy to play the game at the highest level.”
“You see, even if you play the game just for fun, you will enjoy the game much more when you are able to run fast, dodge past defenders and tackle well if you are fit”.
When you practice these boring drills, you will find that you gain a deeper understanding of your body, health and the mental strength aspects of your life.
There are so many residual benefits of learning each subject that a teacher must be aware of. You would do a world of good to your students and children if you could provide answers which makes sense. I think that’s the case with math as well. Many students which includes me, were left wondering why I need to learn calculus, theorems, integrals, polynomials where all what I needed was to add, multiply, divide and subtract in life.
Which are the boring drills which you have been living with?
Have you ever thought of their residual benefits?
What will be your answer to your kids, students and anyone who has such a question?