Should schools primarily teach practical, useful skills for the real world, or is there value in cultivating knowledge that some might consider as useless? Recently, I had a thought-provoking discussion with my students on this very topic, and I shared a compelling quote by philosopher Agnes Heller with them: "If someone were to ask me, as a philosopher, what one should learn in high school, I would answer: first of all, only useless things - ancient Greek, Latin, pure mathematics, and philosophy. Everything that is useless in life. The beauty is that in this way, at the age of 18, you have a baggage of useless knowledge with which you can do anything. While with useful knowledge, you can only do small things." In this blog post, I’d like to point out the key moments of our debate about useless versus useful knowledge, exploring the merits of both sides while ultimately standing alongside Agnes Heller's perspective.

Useful Knowledge: A Practical Approach

Let's begin by examining the viewpoint that education should prioritize useful knowledge – skills and information that are directly applicable to real-life situations and careers. This perspective is often championed by students who find themselves bored or disinterested in school, as they may not immediately see the practical value in what they're learning. But not only students see things that way, unfortunately.

Real-world readiness

 Supporters of useful knowledge argue that focusing on subjects like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as well as vocational skills, equips students with the tools needed to succeed in today's job market. Practical skills ensure students are well-prepared for the challenges and opportunities that await them after graduation.

Economic benefits

Emphasizing useful knowledge can lead to a more competitive and productive workforce, potentially boosting a nation's economy. Practical skills are essential in industries such as healthcare, engineering, and technology, where innovation drives progress.

Problem-solving abilities

 Learning practical knowledge often involves critical thinking and problem-solving, which are skills applicable across various aspects of life. These skills empower individuals to tackle real-world challenges with confidence.


The Value of Useless Knowledge: Agnes Heller's Perspective

While the importance of practical skills cannot be denied, Agnes Heller's viewpoint encourages us to appreciate the beauty of so-called useless knowledge. Her assertion that subjects like ancient Greek, Latin, pure mathematics, and philosophy are invaluable at the high school level challenges us to consider the broader purpose of education.


Intellectual enrichment

 Useless knowledge, as some might call it, fosters intellectual curiosity and a deeper understanding of the world. Subjects like philosophy encourage students to ponder life's fundamental questions and engage in profound introspection.


Agnes Heller contends that a foundation in seemingly unrelated fields like ancient Greek, Latin, and philosophy provides a versatile toolkit. With this "baggage of useless knowledge," students are well-equipped to adapt to a wide range of career paths and challenges, fostering creativity and innovation.

Cultural heritage

 Subjects like ancient languages and philosophy are gateways to our cultural heritage. They connect us to our past, helping us better comprehend the origins of our ideas, languages, and societies. Understanding our roots enriches our appreciation of the present.


Balancing Act: Finding Common Ground

In the end, the debate between useful and useless knowledge need not be an either-or proposition. A well-rounded education should ideally strike a balance between the two, recognizing the value in practical skills while also cherishing the enrichment that comes from seemingly unrelated subjects.

Educators can inspire students by demonstrating how seemingly unrelated knowledge can, in fact, complement their real-world pursuits. Encouraging interdisciplinary learning can bridge the gap between theory and application, showcasing the synergy between seemingly disparate fields.

As educators, our responsibility is not only to prepare students for the practical challenges of the future but also to nurture their intellectual curiosity and passion for learning. Agnes Heller's perspective reminds us that education is not solely about preparing students for a job but also about equipping them with the tools to lead fulfilling and enriched lives.

In the end, the debate over the usefulness of knowledge is a reminder that education is a multifaceted journey. By embracing both practical skills and the beauty of seemingly useless knowledge, we can empower our students to not only do small things but to dream big, innovate, and make the world a better place with the knowledge they carry in their hearts and minds. 

Inizio modulo


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