Monday, May 22, 2006

Formation and Understanding Purposes

There's an old argument (old in a personal sense, not an historical sense) about the need for learning long division now that we have calculators - particularly solar-powered calculators. It goes something like this...

Joe Bloe: "Why do I need to learn long division, if I'll never use it? I can use a calculator instead."

Teacher: "Well, your calculator could run out of batteries."

Joe Bloe: "But I'd get a solar-powered calculator."

Teacher: "What if it broke?"

Joe Bloe: "I'd buy a new one."

Teacher: "What if it broke when you were stuck in the middle of the desert?"

Joe Bloe: "Why would I need to do long division if I was stuck in the middle of the desert?"

It seems to me that the argument comes to an impasse because neither side has a very thorough understanding of the purpose of studying Math. I would have said to Joe Bloe, even though he might not be convinced in one argument, that studying long division is good for your brain. You need to understand how it works to study higher math, even if you don't always need to do the division by hand. Furthermore, the thinking skills developed through Math are important for studying other subjects and making important distinctions in life.

It strikes me that this error in not understanding the purpose for things infects a lot of modern thinking. Here are examples plus some related one, misunderstanding cause and effect. See if you can spot the fallacies:

"Computers have spell and grammar checks, so my children don't need to learn about those things. "

"My kids are too dumb to learn science."

"Studying liberal arts is only good for teachers or lawyers. "

"We don't have very many books in the house because my children don't enjoy reading."

"My children don't need to study music because they aren't musically talented."

"I don't want my children involved in sports because it's not something they can enjoy for the rest of their lives."

I could probably write a post about each of these examples, but my basic point is that life has a deeper purpose than just finding a job (although I certainly don't suggest ignoring job skills) and education as formation plays a significant role in preparing for that. As they say, humans don't live to work, they work to live. Not everything comes solely from "inside" of us, but many things are sparked and developed with the help of outside influences - especially through the guidance and encouragement of parents and other mentors.

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