Why do schools waste so much time teaching pointless stuff?

If you’ve ever watched an episode of “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader,” you’ve probably come to realize the massive amount of pointless knowledge that are drilled into a kids education. Stuff like coniferous vs. deciduous trees. I must ask, is learning that kind of trivial information really beneficial to the kid later in life? Could this be why America sucks at producing children capable of real math and science (compared to other countries)?

Case in point: cursive handwriting. We practiced that crap day-in, day-out for a looooong time. And have I ever used cursive as an adult? No. I’m sure I could think of other examples but I, like everyone else, have long forgotten all the pointless knowledge taught to me since I never ended up using it (and likely won’t unless I appear on a gameshow).

What are some other pointless things you were taught in school?

The difference between coniferous and deciduous trees is trivial? Botany isn’t real science all of a sudden?

Cursive handwriting is a carryover from an older time when it mattered more, and institutions of learning are slow to change. Some schools, IIRC, are phasing out cursive writing.

It’s relevant to the 0.016% of people who actually end up becoming botanists or wildlife scientists. And they’d learn that information later anyway after picking that as a career; it really is trivial when you’re a kid.

I’m also glad to hear cursive is being phased out at some schools.

I’ve never used any math past geometry, and I’ve never regularly used any math past algebra- that was 8th grade.

Then again, some people do.

I think part of the point of a general education is to introduce students to a wide variety of topics so they can discover what really interests them. Some student may have really gotten into the “coniferous vs. deciduous” stuff that you found so boring and gone on to work as a tree surgeon.

I considered that career myself, but I can’t stand the sight of sap.

How would you know if you were interested in botany if you did not at least learn some things that were “trivial” beforehand?

Not to mention the risk of falling out of one of your patients.

I disagree. I think that a certain amount of biology should be taught to everyone. As a society, we are getting further and further removed from our environment; many years ago, when the population was more rural, people had a deeper understanding of where their food, air and water came from - today, not so much.

The net result is a population that is increasingly enviro-illiterate. People (not just botanists or wildlife scientists) who are ignorant of their surrounding environment cannot hope to understand public policy decisions about some mighty important things.

This leads ultimately to the story of an older friend of mine, who thought that “a tree was a tree was a tree”. We were talking about a proposal for a mall to go into an endangered Garry Oak ecosystem. It turned out that he thought that essentially there were no real differences between trees; one kind could just turn into another kind. He’s a professional engineer. He votes.

I consider that info to be basic knowledge about life on our planet, that everyone ought to be exposed to.

Where do you draw the line? If it is not important to you to know the basic differences between types of trees, is it important to differentiate between trees and grasses? Plants and animals? Bacteria and viruses?

besides giving students a wide spectrum of knowledge, which allows them to discover aptitudes and interests, they are learning how to learn and process information and reason. the math story problems and sentence diagramming teach reasoning and problem solving.

that show is a gimmick because much of the facts and answers only might be retained by someone interested in that subject as an adult. so the fact spew a kid could do might be more than an adult but that doesn’t indicate being smarter.

Thank god the OP isn’t (I hope) in charge of any educational system, nor has any children.

You don’t have a better educated population by teaching them less.

I think kids ought to be exposed to a little bit of everything when they’re young. That’s where they’re at their most mentally absorbent, and when they’re likely to find things that interest them more than others. Can’t find what interest them if they’re never exposed to them. Maybe there’s an infinitesimal number of kids who end up wanting to become botanists as a result of being exposed to a bit of it when they were young, but then there’s the chance that they wouldn’t have done so had they not been.

I’ve always looked at the pre-college/university years of life as the smörgåsbord of education wherein kids are exposed to all manner of things. Some they’ll like, some they’ll hate, and some they’ll be indifferent about. But in the end they’ll be better prepared to enter college or university life with a better idea of what they want to focus on.

Limiting the scope of education is what you do if you want to ensure the kids grow up to do certain jobs, as they won’t know what they’re missing out on.

All knowledge is pointless, from a certain point of view.

That POV is wrong.

A lot of learning is simply learning how to learn. You may not use Differential equations, but when the shocks go out on your car, you’ll be reminded that it’s just a dashpot.

This OP is just another rehash of the immemorial cry of indignation of lazy, petulant, frustrated school boys around the world.

We live in an increasingly complex world, and people seem to be getting dumber. This is not a good combination. Elementary and Secondary school curriculum is often the only science and biology knowledge many people will ever acquire. We live in an age where movie stars claim vaccines cause autism, magnets are sold at outrageous prices to “re-align” the water that comes into your house, and millions spend fortunes on herbal snake-oil weight loss products, not to mention alternative medicine. Most can’t explain the difference between what goes on in their micro-wave and a nuclear power plan, and whether either or both are safe. And all these people vote on stuff that affects your life.

Regarding conifers and deciduous trees, I happen to live in a region where one kind does very well, and the other has a lot more trouble. Knowing the difference at least helps me plan my landscaping.

I use basic geometry regularly, to figure out how much paint to use, lay out bulbs in the flower beds, hang picture frames, etc.

Finally, pointless to whom, exactly? How do we know what every kid will need to know for their job? Should we stream little Kimmy in grade one into the trades because she has a little problem with subtraction?

I believe there is a core body if knowledge that should be taught to all citizens, regardless of their actual job, to ensure they can be a competent and engaged citizen.

Otherwise we wind up with even more signatures on the petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide.

Because it’s easier to teach & test trivia than conceptual understanding. Because when the teacher has a shallow understanding of the material, that’s all they can teach & because trivia is bland and uncontroversial and won’t lead to complaints of ideological bias.

I can’t say I regret having learned much of what I did in my pre-college education. Loopus is right in that the point of a general education is to expose kids to many subjects so that they can decide what they want to do later in life. History is an example for me. I’m not a professional historian, but my history classes sparked an interest that I have to this day and that has led me to learn other things which have proven useful to my job.
I will say though, that one thing that has been proven to be absolutely useless to me is diagramming sentences. I hated it in eighth-grade, and haven’t diagrammed a sentence since. And I work in a job where I have to write a lot of reports, so it’s not like the other stuff I learned in English class hasn’t been useful.

What is pointless about knowing “coniferous” vs. “deciduous” trees, unless you never plan to see a tree, use a tree, or partake of any polciy discussions where trees are involved, and that you know all that by the time you are 10 or so?

Sheesh - and I think I read somewhere recently that handwriting, esp. cursive, is taught less and less these days in favor of typing.

Everyone in America is interested in equal rights for all.

Didn’t turn out to be that way.

You greatly misunderstand the content of the OP.

The distinction between deciduous and coniferous trees is rather pointless; understanding the scientific method is much more important but inadequately addressed by our current system of K-12 education.

Perhaps years of my biology education was wasted on learning the minutiae of phylogenetic classifications that were already a decade or more out of date. Sure, it’s great that kids get to see some of the incredible diversity which exits in the biology of the earth, but distinguishing between millipedes and centipedes isn’t of enormous practical value to anyone.

A better science education which would translate more readily to a scientifically literate population would be a rigorous exploration of how scientists create phylogenetic trees, how they revise them using genetic sequencing, and perhaps a biostatistics project where kids have to argue for grouping or not grouping two phenotypically similar organisms based upon a publicly available genome sequences of the two organisms.