The “Why” Before the “What” and the “How”

I found the title of this article, “Dear Teachers: Please Don’t Make Your Lessons Relevant” by Peter Greene kind of clickbaity (is that a word?) and I got suckered in and had to read it. I enjoyed it and appreciated this point:

Once you look at a lesson and ask, “How am I going to make this material relevant,” you have admitted that the material is not actually relevant. If that’s true–if the lesson is inherently irrelevant–then you need to ask a bigger question. Why are you teaching it at all? Because it’s on the test? Because your boss said you have to? These are lousy reasons to teach anything.

After I read that part, this analogy grabbed my attention:

Those connections don’t need to be profound. For instance, I maintain that one of the benefits of being a well-educated person is that you get more jokes. Education makes the world funnier. Some disciplines are about building mental muscles. When I inevitably heard the “when are we ever going to use this” question, my reply was a sports analogy. Our football players always spent the offseason lifting weights, even though no football game in history ever stopped for a bench press competition. The players are never going to use their bench pressing skills, so why bother? Because they would use the muscles that weight lifting built.

Reading this, I made my own connection as sometimes we want to play in the game without doing the practice, but if you don’t practice before you play, the game probably isn’t going to go so well.  I do my best to paint a picture of why what I am talking about is essential before we get into the “what and the how.”  If you jump into the second part before the first, the question that will continuously pop up is, “Why are we doing this?”  I found that the time I spend explaining “why” often saves time and helps us dig deeper into the “what and the how.”

Not everything in school or life is meant to be fun or something you will use all of the time, but we have to develop some of those foundational skills in ourselves and our students before we get to the big picture.  Helping students understand that journey to a more significant destination is crucial for their growth and ours.  If you can’t explain it, as Greene says, then why teach it?

Image result for understanding why quote

Source: George Couros