Why do I need to learn this?

By: PCA Support Team|Date: Jan 23, 2020|Tags: Plymouth Christian Life

Higher-order thinking, brain

We’ve all been there.

Our student looks at us in complete exasperation and says,

“I hate this subject! Why do I even have to learn this stuff? I’ll NEVER, EVER, use it!”

This outburst may be accompanied by tears or thrown projectiles. Usually, it’s while they are working on a subject that doesn’t come easily for them or isn’t inherently interesting to them or perhaps not even to us.

What’s a parent to do?

Commiserate? Well, maybe a little, to show understanding. But that’s not helpful in the long run.

Tough love? Tempting as it is to tell your child, “Just do it!” they (like us) usually need a little more compelling persuasion, lest we run the risk of frustrating them.

So, what’s the answer? What do we say to our kids when they are fed-up with learning tough subjects? And why DO we bother to learn some things – especially if we feel like we never used that information later in life?


This is what we say,

“Honey, I know you’re frustrated. I know your brain hurts. And that’s just it….your brain is a muscle, and you are stretching it. You’re giving it a workout, and it’s hard work! But here’s the deal:

It does NOT matter whether you ever ‘use this stuff when you grow up.’ The very fact that you tackled and mastered such challenging material CHANGES your brain. Forever. It means that learning this while you’re young will give you a better brain your whole life! Even if you never touch calculus (or Spanish or whatever) ever again.”


Here’s the scoop:

Learning hard things makes our brains better by creating new neuropathways and connections; by training our minds to process information in new ways. Even more, learning subjects that require higher-order thinking – like advanced math, literature analysis, chemistry, physics, and ANY foreign-language – is the ONLY way to build higher-order thinking skills in our brain. Skills like problem-solving, analysis, logic, and creativity. And higher-order thinking links both our left and right brain hemispheres, making our God-given super-computer even faster, more powerful, and better able to identify nuanced patterns/connections.

Who doesn’t need that our whole lives? (….crickets chirping….) That’s right! We ALL do!

Regardless of where God leads our children, knowing HOW to calculate the area of a parallelogram or how to conjugate a verb in French, for example, will help our children EVEN IF they never perform these processes again.

Don’t believe me? Here’s some of the science to back up this claim: https://cetl.uconn.edu/critical-thinking-and-other-higher-order-thinking-skills/#.

Or this quote related to advanced literacy: “(Higher-order thinking students) can analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and interpret the text they are reading at complex levels. They can process text at deep levels, make judgments, and detect shades of meaning. They can make critical interpretations and demonstrate high levels of insight and sophistication in their thinking. They can make inferences, draw relevant and insightful conclusions, use their knowledge in new situations, and relate their thinking to other situations and their background knowledge. These students fare well on standardized tests and are considered to be advanced. They will indeed be prepared to function as outstanding workers and contributors in a fast-paced workplace where the emphasis is on using information rather than just knowing facts.”

But is this compelling enough to convince our frustrated student? Probably not <grin!>. Human development indicates that the part of our brain that fully understands the implications of long-term decisions is not completely developed until around age 25. That’s why insurance rates drop at age 25, and why you can’t rent a car until then. Don’t ask me why we let people vote at 18 or make other vital decisions…that’s a discussion for another post.

Suffice it to say that YOU, as the parent, KNOW that learning these hard subjects is GOOD for their brain, and if you tell them enough, with a kind smile, they will hopefully thank you one day that you made them stick with it, even though it was hard.

One last thing. Don’t forget to remind them that, even when it’s hard, it IS learn-able. And with God, all things are possible. He is the Source of all wisdom and gives generously to us when we ask Him. How encouraging!

Author: PCA Support Team

[1] Higher-order thinking
Higher-order thinking, known as higher-order thinking skills (HOTS), is a concept of education reform based on learning taxonomies (such as Bloom’s Taxonomy). The idea is that some types of learning require more cognitive processing than others, but also have more generalized benefits. In Bloom’s taxonomy, for example, skills involving analysis, evaluation, and synthesis (creation of new knowledge) are thought to be of a higher order, requiring different learning and teaching methods than the learning of facts and concepts. Higher-order thinking involves the learning of complex judgmental skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving. Higher-order thinking is more difficult to learn or teach but also more valuable because such skills are more likely to be usable in novel situations (i.e., situations other than those in which the skill was learned). Source: https://thesaurus.babylon-software.com/higher-order%20thinkin

[2] http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104428/chapters/Higher-Order_Thinking.aspx


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