I don’t write many heavily ‘philosophical’ posts here at Musical Theatre Resources, and there is a very simple reason for that: I rarely find these type of posts practical. Interesting from a theoretical perspective, perhaps, but rarely useful in the real world. However, I am going to make an exception to that rule today with this short ‘thought post’.
As a child in school, I was often that ‘precocious’ student who asked teachers questions like: “Why do I need to know this particular concept?” or “How can I USE this information in the real world?” If the teacher could not provide a good answer, I would almost always find it difficult to focus on the material being taught. None of this was intended to be disrespectful toward the instructor. However, even at a young age, I realized my brain could only store and process a certain amount of information at one time. Therefore, I wanted that information to be practical and have real world applications outside of school. Heavily theoretical topics with no real world applications simply did not make the cut for me (hence, I was never very good at a subject like advanced math…).
As humans, we are only on this planet for a relatively short period of time. In addition, our minds can only store a finite amount of information at once. Therefore, shouldn’t our learning focus remain on topics that we can actually USE in our everyday lives? I’ve sat in on quite a few presentations where the presenter said upfront, “This is information you need to know.” No further clarification. No real-world context. Just an odd declaration of sorts to help ‘justify’ the material being discussed. Those type of presentations usually go in one ear and out the other for me because I have no meaningful connection to the information being presented.
This is an important link that continues to be missing from some sects of our education system today. Information MUST be relevant to students and their lives if we expect them to remember and actually use it later on. To my readers who are teachers, I recommend this: always teach with a clear purpose. Always ask questions like: “Is the information I’m teaching serving the student and his/her individual goals?” and “Are there real-world implications for the information I’m teaching?” If the answer to either of these questions is no, then perhaps that information is more ‘supplemental’ in nature and should be left to teach AFTER more practical subjects have been explored at length.
Having said all this, I do believe there is a time and place for teaching purely-theoretical information. However, these instances are rare and should only occur after all practical information has been disseminated. I am much more interested in preparing my students for the real world than filling their heads with supplemental knowledge that has no direct implications to their career/life goals. It’s all about priorities.
In closing, I will end with a bit of dialogue from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that I find particularly relevant here:
Dolores Umbridge: It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations– which, after all, is what school is all about!
Harry Potter: And how is theory supposed to prepare us for what’s out there?
Dolores Umbridge: There is nothing out there, dear!