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LETTERS

A recent writer from a local high school wanted to know why he had to learn so much boring and useless stuff in school. The letter was well-written and deserves a respectful answer which I would like to provide.

As a long-retired high school teacher, I frequently run into former students who now hold responsible positions in our society and they often bring up that same topic with me.

With an ironic smile or a sheepish grin they will say, “Remember when I used to ask you why I had to learn this stuff? Now I use it every day in my job.”

The catch is that your 16-year-old self really has no inkling what your 36-year-old self will be doing. And that is why you need to learn as much as you can across a broad spectrum of available knowledge. Limiting what you learn limits where you can go.

Although at times it can be difficult, there is also an element of joy in learning. In secondary school, those who exhibit that joy are often disdained as “nerds.” But later in life, the nerds become “experts” and they are the people you turn to when things get tough. When you have a really serious problem — whether it be legal, medical, plumbing, or automotive — your best hope is someone who knows the Pythagorean Theorem, Dalton’s Atomic Theory, Shakespeare and tons of other useless stuff. As the French chemist Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Some of my students went on to become doctors, pharmacists, nurses, dentists, airline pilots, chemistry professors. Some went into trades like carpentry, plumbing, automotive repair, masonry.

All of them use the skills they learned first in high school. Would you really want a contractor building your house if he did not know about Pythagoras?

As for balancing a checkbook, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

That’s from Shakespeare.

Ronald C. Blatchley, New Berlin

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