A Ramble on the Four School Subjects

I loved school when I was a kid. I enjoyed at least some aspects of it all the way through my college graduation in May 2011. Lately I’ve been pondering the four main categories of subjects: math, English, science, and history. I loved math and English, was less fond of science, and hated history (and “social studies”). All categories have some obvious value, and I’ve been trying to nail down why I liked what I liked.

Math was pure. It was so pure that I don’t think I ever considered how pure it was. We were given problems in textbooks or on worksheets, and we solved them and turned them in. We got the right answer or the wrong answer, and there was no arguing over which was which (no matter how Orwellian you think the world has become). Math was pure, and a beautiful thing. Even when it got harder and I took calculus I and II in college for fun (because I’m insane), and I had to spend hours practicing and studying and hanging around my professors’ office hours asking questions because it stopped coming easily to me, I liked it.

English was beautiful too, because English was the source of all the wonderful books I liked to read. It’s not like my favorites were particularly highbrow  I’m talking series like Animorphs, The Baby-sitters Club, and The Boxcar Childen, as well as Jerry Spinelli’s Who Put That Hair in My Toothbrush? and several peculiar things written by Louis Sachar (There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom is an underrated favorite). I was (am) also a fan of fairy stories, princess stories, crazy science fiction stories, and other wonderful sub-literature.

It didn’t matter that my tastes were fairly pedestrian, and that I hated everything about To Kill a MockingbirdWuthering Heights, and various other so-called classics thrown at me over the years. I knew that I wasn’t going to like everything we were assigned. I just loved reading, writing, and learning grammar and vocabulary. More than that, all the English assignments came easily to me. There was no struggling, which meant I felt smart, which I enjoyed. (And as it turns out, I love a lot of the classics, but many of them are ones that never got handed out as homework.)

But I also believe English appealed to me as math did: it does not pretend to be what it is not.

Science was a different matter. Sometimes it was difficult. Some things were hard to understand. Some things were interesting, and some things were not. Some stuff was very easy to understand. It was complicated. It was vast. And it challenged my understanding of the Bible at that time. If science truly insists on materialism and evolution, and I do not believe that, how can I be sure of science? It was a peculiar twist on what most people struggle with: if the Bible does not agree with science, how can I be sure of the Bible? I don’t have this issue now. Whether God made the world in six literal days or six unfathomable God-days, God made the world and there’s nothing upsetting about that. But this problem plagued me as a kid, and it meant I did not trust my science teachers or my textbooks enough to learn from them as I should have.

History had a similar issue. It was vast, it was complicated, and people argued about what was really true about it which made it impossible to trust fully. More than all that, though, it was boring. My attitude was that these things have already happened, these people have died, and I don’t care, so why are you wasting my time? A wonderful professor at UCF named Reagan Smith (whom you can hear weekly on his radio broadcast with Al Spry, “Florida Roundtable”) finally turned all that around for me with his American history class, but I spent a lot of years before that having no idea what George Santayana’s famous quote¹ really meant.

Why is this even noteworthy? I realized recently that not only is every subject valuable, but every subject is a way of describing the world. It’s a beautiful thing. But now that I’m interested in learning more things, and no longer find history dull or science annoyingly confusing, I’d have to carve out the time and pay for books and plan my own field trips…bah, humbug.

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1: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana, The Life of Reason

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  1. Well written & thought provoking…Just one question..What do you think of Common Core Math?

    • I have to admit I don’t know much about the new standards. I have a lot of friends who are teachers and they are extremely frustrated with what appears to be a general lowering of standards, but I’ve also read some articles that defend the new approach to math very well. If it’s true that there’s a push toward children understanding math more fully, that’s great. If it’s true that there’s a push toward lower standards for everyone, that’s a serious problem. And that’s about all I can say for sure. Thanks for commenting!

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