When Am I Ever Going To Use This?

“When am I ever going to use this?” is probably the most common question I get from any student. We assume that if something has no practical value, if we cannot see immediately how it might be of use to us, then it is worthless to know. Yet, if that is our rationale, why does it matter if we know the earth revolves around the sun or have read and discussed Shakespeare’s works or know how to solve a system of equations? If our only criteria for the worth of something is its usefulness, then why bother learning anything outside of the field in which we desire to work? Surely a chemist has no need of reading literature or learning history and government. The mathematician can forgo all classes that do not teach mathematical operation and proof. The wife and mother who wishes to stay home and raise a family has no need of literature or chemistry or mathematics.

By no means do I actually hold to those ideas. Regardless of the field in which you work–science, psychology, art, mathematics, stay-at-home mom–value is found in studying various subjects. The value of knowledge goes beyond the practical. As we study various subjects, we are better equipped to interact with our world.

Mathematics and philosophy develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that we use to make decisions every day. Let’s suppose you received several lucrative job offers and need to decide which offer to accept. You seek out information on the companies, evaluate the offers, compare the risks and rewards of each offer, and reach a conclusion. These are the same kinds of critical thinking steps used in solving basic math problems–we see what information is presented in the problem, decide what information we need to evaluate the problem, consider our options, and reach an answer. In our job example, we must also decide which offer is best suited to our goals and aspirations in life. Philosophy helps us consider and evaluate what we find important in our lives. Is your goal to make money? Then, you would place more value on the job which offers the highest salary. What if your goal was to raise a family? You would accept the offer which allowed you more time for that priority.

Art and music and the humanities teach us to see the beauty in the world around us. They help us learn to see the world through different lenses. Considering the viewpoint of another person, spending time thinking about how or why they see the world a particular way, causes us to expand our own thinking, to see the world from a different perspective, to better understand the people around us. The humanities show us that different interpretations of the same situation can be equally valid. Compare the works of Picasso and da Vinci. Both artists painted human subjects, yet they did not see those subjects in the same way. Is one wrong and the other right? What of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright or Filippo Brunelleschi? Is one better than the other, or merely two different ways of seeing the world? These things cause us to consider why we prefer one artist or architect or musician over another. What is it about the work itself that draws you in or repels you? What does it reveal about how the artist (or you) view the world in which we live?

Studying diverse subjects makes us more human. We become more knowledgeable about the world around, better able to interact and converse with the world. More than that, each subject teaches us something about the God who created it. Mathematics, science, government show us a God of order, rules, and details.  Social sciences remind us of a God whose very essence is relationship and interaction. Humanities teach us of a God who creates and enjoys beauty.  Open your eyes and your mind and let yourself become more human.  Take a class or read a book on a new subject; see what it teaches you about yourself and the world around you.

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