Why do you go to school?

Why DO you go to school?

I have been thinking about this a lot recently.


My daughter, Scarlett, is almost 15, and a few months ago she started a period of work, preparing for her GCSE exams, which will take place, spread out over the next year or so.


I have been helping her with her revision, and my thoughts on this subject have changed ever since I read MINDSET by Carole Dweck.


This is how I USED to think….

You go to school to learn subjects, like Maths, Chemistry, French, Latin, Geography and so on.


During your years in school you find that you are good at some subjects and not so good at others. For me, I was good at Maths and Physics, and not very good at languages.


You work hard to learn the subjects, you get qualifications (GCSEs, A-Levels etc.), which then prove (or at least indicate) to a university, or to an employer, that you are reasonably bright, and good at Maths/French/Cooking etc.


You then went on to a University course, or a job, which was vaguely related to the subjects that you did well at, at school.


So it was a big advantage being Bright/Smart/Clever because you got good exam results and hopefully got a job doing something that you wanted, and got reasonably well paid for it.


Now this way of thinking always made me question why on earth we studied things like Latin, History, English Literature at school – because the number of people who then went on to get jobs that required them to speak Latin, recite Chaucer, or know the names of Henry VIII’s wives, always seemed to be tiny.


This is what I think NOW….

You go to school to learn how to study, and to learn the benefits of working hard.


During your years in school you have to learn a wide variety of subjects. You have to learn different ways of studying them:

  • reading about them;
  • listening to a teacher explain them;
  • watch videos about them;
  • experiment with them.

You have to learn how to present the results of your studies in different ways:

  • You have to talk about subjects (oral tests).
  • You have to be able to think on your feet (applying theoretical knowledge from the classroom to field trips).
  • You have to learn about a subject so you can write up what you have learnt at a later date (exams).
  • You have to work hard to understand something you do not have a natural talent for.


These skills that you learn will then last you for the rest of your lives.

Regardless of the subjects you were studying at the time.


In fact the most useful subjects at school are the ones you are not very good at.

You can probably get by without doing much work on subjects that come to you very easily. The problem with that is, you never learn how to work hard. Then the first time you do have to work hard – in a job, or maybe at university, it is a complete shock to you, and you can get very disheartened and struggle badly.

However, to do well in subjects you struggle with, you have to work out different ways of learning it. Do I learn better by listening to someone talk about it, or by reading about it and making notes, or by experimenting with it?


By working hard, and developing different learning techniques, you are picking up really useful skills.


Then – if you do go to University, or a job, based around a subject that you really like, you can excel at it because you have a natural talent AND you know how to work hard on it when it comes to that.


So actually being Bright/Smart/Clever only gets you part way. Learning how to work hard on something you struggle with will get you a lot further!


This is what I am trying to help my daughter to understand, so hopefully she will leave school with great subject knowledge, a good attitude to working hard, and a knowledge of how to learn things that she struggles with.


Bye for now.


Chris Smith