The Thinking Teacher: The futility of utility

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If we want thinking children, we need thinking teachers. This is the premise of my book ‘The Thinking Teacher’, in this series of posts I am sharing some of the key ideas from the book and the thinking behind them.

This chapter explores the usefulness of things we learn in school, and questions whether everything schools teach should be ‘useful’.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Should everything that happens in schools be about answering this question? How valid is the assumption often brought to the question that the answer should be framed in terms of a job.

With so much of our education system geared towards tangible outcomes such as grades, exam certificates and jobs, it is easy to forget that learning things that are useful and have a direct application is just one possible aim. Even then, such aims might be different depending on where one ends up.

Solving simultaneous equations might be one of those things that many people haven’t thought of since school, but to some engineers they are completely embedded in the way they think about their work every day. Analysing the effectiveness of art may only be of use to those who become artists, yet the further ability to appreciate the atheistic beauty of something visual is surely worthwhile to us all.

Public education systems are paid for by the state, and the agent of the modern state have a tendency to paint everything it does in economic terms. I’d argue that the utility of what is learnt in school to the economic landscape of the state is only one part of the story.


More in ‘The Thinking Teacher’, which is available now in from (independent book sellers,) Amazon UKAmazon US and on the iBooks store.

More posts on ideas from ‘The Thinking Teacher’ here.





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