“Why do we have to learn this?” is the most frustrating question a student can ask a teacher in a couple scenarios: 1) When a student asks the question out of frustration on a skill they have not mastered quickly, or 2) When, as a teacher, you don’t have a better response than “because it is on the test.” Now, to be fair, I was that student. I would ask why I needed to learn something when I did not enjoy it, or see the direct use of it, but occasionally it came out of a genuine curiosity to know why we were being taught the things we were being taught.
In my college years, and the three years since, I have come to realize that all good educators have another response to that nagging question. I have also found that teachers don’t often share this answer because the answer is potentially more frustrating to the student than the original question was to the teacher. So, why do we need to learn things that do not seem immediately impactful or useful in our lives? Here is my answer…
Learning is a skill, and all skills take practice. Sometimes, we need to practice learning, and often the most effective practice is difficult practice. As a middle school or high school student, that kind of answer would have made me want to leave the room. As an adult and an aspiring Renaissance Human, the idea of practicing learning makes the entire world a chance to learn. Learning doesn’t need to have a practical application, and can definitely just be for fun! I suggest you find a (seemingly) useless skill and master it. You will find pleasure in the learning process and skill proficiency. When the chance arises to show it off, people are going to be impressed!
Here is a list of (seemingly) useless skills to give you some ideas!
Let’s face it, we’ve all seen “The Patriot,” “The Expendables,” or have been to the circus or the fair and seen people throwing hatchets, knives, and all manner of sharp objects blade first into a target with a satisfying thud or thwack. End-over-end the object turns and magically ends up stuck in the target, every time. It is impressive! It also takes a lot of practice and patience to get that good at it. Find yourself a nice soft, dead tree or target and get throwing! I’m not an expert, but the axe I was taught with, and the one I made have come from Crazy Crow Trading Post, and there some good Youtube videos to get you started on your throw.
How to shoot a gun (as a non-hunter or sans membership to the NRA)
So you’re not a hunter or a member of NRA. Yet, being able to shoot a gun well seems like an impressive skill to have. It takes an incredible amount of skill and mental self-control (to the point of meditation) in order to fire a gun accurately at a distance. You don’t need to own a firearm in order to do this. Shooting ranges often have guns and ammunition you can use for the time you are there. If you are still uncomfortable with the idea of going to a gun range, get a BB/pellet gun! They are a lot of fun, and you can still learn some of the basics of marksmanship.
Whittle something (well)
There are all kinds of little whittling projects out there! Old-man faces, ball-in-cage, chain links, and little dogs, just to name a few! Whittling takes time, skill, and attention, and at the end of you have a little trinket which can be gifted or placed somewhere as decoration. This skill will take time to master, but you will get better with each iteration. Resist the temptation of impatience! Instead of moving from project to project, see if you can get good enough to have the ability to take a block of wood and turn it into something in just a few hours.
This is a great (seemingly) useless skill to have up your sleeve! Most people love a well executed magic trick, and even the skeptics who like to try to ruin it for other people enjoy having a new riddle to figure out. If you have small children, babysit, or are an aunt or uncle, one or two really good magic tricks will have the little ones entertained for a long time. When people start talking about magic tricks, we all tend to start thinking about card tricks, and with good reason! There is almost always a deck of cards around, and if there isn’t, a standard deck is pretty easy for you to keep on hand. Not to mention how impressive it is that you impossibly found the person’s exact card in a deck of 52. I have one issue with card tricks, especially if you are learning them as an adult…many card tricks require a deftness of hand and dexterity which is easier to develop as an adolescent. If that is your prerogative, more power to you! I suggest sponge balls as an alternative. Though the aren’t as ubiquitous as a deck of cards, they are just as easy, if not easier, for you to keep with you. Their material and size mean they don’t require quite as much dexterity as a deck of cards, but seeing sponge balls disappear and multiply in a person’s hand is a big crowd pleaser!
This is a classic useless skill which still entertains people. The definition of juggling is keeping up more objects than hands you have to deal with. If you have two apples, you can juggle with one hand; if you have three or more chainsaws, you can juggle with two hands; if you have a juggling partner (with all limbs intact) you are going to need five or more ceramic plates; if you only have one ball, you are going to have to use your feet, hence soccer juggling! This ancient art of entertainment is a great (seemingly) useless skill because it takes a lot of practice, and there is almost always something else to try!
Handstands/Walking on hands
Let’s face it, being able to walk from one side of the yard to the other on just your hands is impressive! It takes strength, balance, and concentration. In my own experience, if there is someone walking around on their hands, it is more than likely that some not-so-skilled people are going to give it a try as well. Spread the love, and give everybody a chance to tumble around in the grass!
If you haven’t seen this before, check out this video of slacklining. This is basically trick tightrope walking. Balance, practice, and a little bit of daredevil are all you need to master this (seemingly) useless skill. Last summer I saw a few people set up their slacklines at muscle beach in Santa Monica. There was one guy who was clearly the best, but I was impressed by anybody who could get from one end to the other, let alone flip and bounce on the slackline.
If you work at a coffee shop or have aspirations to work at a coffee shop, this might not be a useless skill. If you are like the rest of the population who just like good coffee and everything that comes with it, this is a great trick to have in your back pocket. Most of the time you see a few standard depictions in latte art (heart or a leaf/tree), but there are some people who have chosen espresso and steamed milk as their medium for expression. It is OK if you don’t want to be one of the great coffee artists, but it does make a person feel pretty special when they get their latte and there is a magically crafted picture waiting just for them.
If you have another (seemingly) useless skill in which you are an expert, or would like to become an expert, leave a comment so we can all see the wonderful world of learning for learning’s sake!