What were you expected to know after kindergarten
January 12, 2017 10:52 AM   Subscribe

The poem says that "All I ever really needed to know I learned in kindergarten" but what about all things you are expected to learn in school? I am trying to generate a list of things students (all ages even grad school) or people in training programs for a profession are expected to learn, but then are never used again.

I am particularly interested in examples of thing you needed to know in order to pass a class or get a certification, but in retrospect you didn't really need to know it. For example, maybe a fifth grade standard is to memorize the state capitals of all 50 states, but now you couldn't name them if you tried. Or another example might be you had to get a passing grade in Calculus to get your engineering degree, but you've never used it in your working life. Examples could be non-school related too, such as "in order to be x, I had to show that I could do or know y, but now that I'm x, I've never once done y."
posted by turtlefu to Education (47 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Programming job interviews are prime examples of this. I have never, ever needed to recursively search a tree in real life.
posted by the_blizz at 11:03 AM on January 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

How to diagram a sentence.
posted by The otter lady at 11:05 AM on January 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Or another example might be you had to get a passing grade in Calculus to get your engineering degree, but you've never used it in your working life.

I get the spirit of the question, but this is problematic. Some engineers use calc every day, some don't. The fact that I, personally, don't use calc much (when I'm not teaching it) doesn't mean that plenty of people aren't using it professionally every day. For just about anything taught, *someone* out there will be using it, in a job, or a hobby or something. You know who uses the state capitals? Trivia game winners!

So, maybe instead of "are never used again", it would be better to think in terms of "are popularly thought to not be especially useful in a career context", or "many people are able to forget all about it and suffer few consequences".

(See also this cartoon from SMBC :)
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:06 AM on January 12, 2017 [13 favorites]

Cursive. A "very important life skill" according to the teachers of my cursive classes in elementary school. I never used it again until I took the SAT.

Indeed, the worst part of taking the SAT was when they forced us to write a paragraph in cursive — I think it was a mechanism to prevent cheating? — and I couldn't remember how to write most of the capital letters. It took me like 20 minutes. I felt ridiculous.

I have not used cursive again since.
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 11:08 AM on January 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I think the question in itself is problematic. Memorizing the capitals may not be info used daily, but it's in the process of memorization and learning that our brains learn to learn, if you will.

Like, maybe one needed to pass Calculus which they never use, but they now have the skill of thinking in a particularly rational way.

I was going to say cursive, but cursive hasn't been taught in the past 10 years in Massachusetts.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 11:09 AM on January 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

To build on the_blizz, there is an entire industry of training up people to do Google/FB/Amazon/whatevs technical interviews. Interviews that are 90% skills/techniques that never get used for anything but technical interviews at large/popular tech companies.

Google says up front that that they turn away 10 good-enough-to-do-actual-work-at-Google engineers for every 1 that gets hired.

Cracking the Coding Interview: 189 Programming Questions and Solutions is the most famous piece in this bullshit puzzle.
posted by sideshow at 11:13 AM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is a problematic or too broad question. As a museum person, not only do I use cursive, but the ability to read/interpret old forms of cursive is a pretty essential skill. Anyone who studies primary sources in any kind of history, or really the history of any field pre about 1980, will bump into cursive.
posted by gudrun at 11:16 AM on January 12, 2017 [17 favorites]

I could answer waiting for the little "ding" before advancing the filmstrip one frame. On the other hand, patience and Pavlovian consumption of entertainment are two of my essential life skills, too.
posted by meinvt at 11:23 AM on January 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

this is so person-specific though. I don't remember 90% of what I learned in chemistry class, but obviously there are lots of chemists.
posted by AFABulous at 11:31 AM on January 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Most high schools and college majors in the USA have some sort of foreign language requirement, yet it is rather easy to only understand and speak English as an adult in the USA.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:34 AM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with the objections above. Diagramming sentences, for instance, helps students understand grammar and syntax so that they will be able to write with clarity and parse long or difficult sentences. It's a means to an end, not an end in itself.
posted by Bromius at 11:35 AM on January 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

Memorising lists of major imports/exports from/to my country. I never understood why they taught us that in middle school, but they did, and I still don't know why. Surely by the time you grow up to be an economist or whatever, the facts will have changed? I guess they wanted to give us a general idea of what international trade is, and how important it is, but I'm still annoyed about the lists.
posted by Aravis76 at 11:35 AM on January 12, 2017

I believe most states require students do a unit on their state history. Sure, having context for historical events is useful and important, but a lot of state history is extremely biased ("the Indians loved the European settlers!" or pet issue focused) and if you end up moving to another state, ultimately pretty useless.

I have never ever in my life needed to know a single thing about the Dahlonega gold rush except to choose "1829" on the test with the question about the Dahlonega gold rush but there it is sitting in my brain, keeping me from remembering things like which Ninja Turtles used which weapons, which is a subject that has come up in my life approximately 4-5 times per year throughout my entire adulthood.
posted by phunniemee at 11:37 AM on January 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have never personally had a problem due to not remembering the dates on which important historical documents were signed.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:37 AM on January 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

"Cursive. A "very important life skill" according to the teachers of my cursive classes in elementary school. I never used it again until I took the SAT. "

There is a very truthful meme going around that states that "pretty soon no one in the younger generation will be able to read or write Cursive, and it will become a secret language for we older folk."!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 11:49 AM on January 12, 2017

Agree with the above objections. Having said that, in my life, the things that stick out to me are a lot of the rote memorization I had to do in higher education (I think memorizing stuff in elementary school is just part of the learning process but I know that's debatable) of things that I consider to be reference tools, there to look up things when you need them. For example, I had to memorize parts of the periodic table in chemistry, but that's just dumb to me. I can always grab one to look up electronegativities or whatever and shouldn't have had to memorize it. But, again, I'm also not a chemist so I don't know. Maybe chemists actually use that memorization every day. Also agree on memorizing dates. I never thought it important to know when the Stamp Act was passed, just that it was, and the consequences that followed. But again that's just me. I'm not a history buff.
posted by FireFountain at 11:53 AM on January 12, 2017

I cannot say that I have ever actively used anything that I learned in PE.

But having a general idea about how some random piece of information relates to one or more of the various subject I had to cover at school has been helpful. I have frameworks for thinking through things, to categorise, assess and evaluate other information that comes my way. I generally have an idea of where to find out more if I want to.

There is also a lot to be said for learning how to learn and how to find information as a skillset - that is something I do all the time.

Finally, it appears I may be in the minority here but most of my colleagues, even our new starters who are recent graduates, write cursive. So this may depend a lot on where in the world you find yourself.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:00 PM on January 12, 2017

Just to clarify, this question is intentionally person and/or context specific. Of course some engineers use calculus every single day, and of course certain historians need to know cursive, and of course we can justify learning any skill or subset of facts as a means to an end. I am not asking why you had to learn something, that is an entirely different question. So rather than debate if the question I am asking is spurious or not, I'd love to hear more examples just like the_blizz above, "I have never in my career needed to do x, but I was expected to show I could do x."
posted by turtlefu at 12:18 PM on January 12, 2017

I have never had to stop, drop, and roll.
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:28 PM on January 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

In my college computer class, I learned the function of // so.sysin dd * , thinking it was computer knowledge. I always give this as an example to people in my classes who try to memorize when they should be trying to understand.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:32 PM on January 12, 2017

Learning math develops your brain. I have never, and will never, use trigonometry to determine the height of anything, but I think studying it was good for my brain, like running is good for your body. Learning cursive, which combines mental and physical learning, probably makes your brain more capable.

That said, I think people should learn statistics and logic in a more useful way, to deal with the world full of advertising and crap we are immersed in. They should be taught some financial literacy.
posted by theora55 at 12:35 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

In my 5-10th grade years, I believe I was taught about the Revolutionary and Civil Wars at least 4 times each. Focus was on battles and locations and dates. Very little time was spent on the reasons for each war and very very little time on the aftermath of either one, except in AP US History. I have never needed to know the minute details of the fighting except when playing Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit. None of those classes got past WWI except, again, the AP class. Even then, we didn't get very far into WWII before the school year ended.

We were taught nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs several different years. I never formally learned what an article or preposition was and did not understand model auxiliaries until my German teacher explained them!

We were repeatedly told that at the next school (middle to high school or high school to college), teachers would expect you to format your papers this specific way and to print at this specific size and font, etc. It was never true. Each one had a new format and blamed it on the next one.
posted by soelo at 12:55 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have never needed to apply a tourniquet, nor have I needed to perform CPR, except for during the test for my merit badge.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:10 PM on January 12, 2017

I have never needed to apply a tourniquet, nor have I needed to perform CPR...

So far, anyway.

But, it's nice info to have squirreled away, should the day come.
posted by she's not there at 1:23 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had to take calculus for my degree in wildlife biology. I took it twice, actually - once in high school and then again in college. I retained essentially nothing of it. I have only the vaguest idea what calculus is even about. I've never needed it. I've never needed any math above the level of algebra and geometry tested on the SAT and GRE. (And aside from the SAT and GRE I've almost never needed algebra or geometry, either.)

I've never needed whatever it was I learned in organic chemistry, either. That was another requirement for my wildlife degree and another course whose contents were almost completely forgotten soon after I (barely) passed it.

I don't know that I've ever really needed any of the social studies/history information I learned. I think I could have had the same success at the same jobs and functioned fine in my day-to-day life without knowing even basic things like why the Civil War was fought or where England is. But I'm happy to have some of that information in my collection of background knowledge about the world. If nothing else, it keeps me from feeling as stupid as I'd feel without it. And I do need some of that background knowledge to be an informed voter.
posted by Redstart at 2:00 PM on January 12, 2017

Just this summer my kid saw a huge tree and wanted to know how tall it was. We measured the shadow, and his shadow and used trig to find the height of the tree. He was so impressed with us!
posted by Valancy Rachel at 2:00 PM on January 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

I had to learn all kinds of things related to physical planning to become a certified planner (American Institute of Certified Planners) that I never used in my research-oriented career. I don't think of this as a waste of my time, rather, it's just part of the "in order to be x, you have to show you can do y..." package.

In another world, I might have ended up working for a consulting firm that did nothing but planned developments and never used anything I learned regarding economic development strategies.
posted by she's not there at 2:11 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

IANAL, but I've heard correct read several times the the bodies of knowledge needed to 1. Graduate law school, 2. Pass the bar, and 3. Practice law are separate and distinct.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:21 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

For most librarian jobs, an MLIS/MLS is required. I did that. I don't use the vast majority of what I learned-- the only classes I've actually used are my cataloging internship, intellectual freedom seminar, archives & records intro, and, oddly enough, business/management class.

There are complicated reasons why you have to have a master's, and I'd argue that in nonspecialized, public-facing jobs, you only need to have a basic education, good communication, customer service/conflict resolution skills, better-than-basic computer skills, and a willingness to serve the public. The master's has interesting material to cover, but in terms of job effectiveness, you really really really don't need it. Or at least I don't. I'd have preferred a class on fixing laser printers and formal training on Excel.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:32 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just this summer my kid saw a huge tree and wanted to know how tall it was. We measured the shadow, and his shadow and used trig to find the height of the tree. He was so impressed with us!

I hope you used similar triangles rather than trig since there's no easy way to measure the angle of elevation. (This is knowledge that is only useful to snark on the internet.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:33 PM on January 12, 2017

I had to pass calculus to get a theology degree. It obviously hasn't come up for me since, even though I'm glad I learned it because it's an important building block to the modern world, but all I remember is what it is, not how to do it.

On the flip side, math majors had to pass two theology classes, so I guess it evened out.

I spent a LONG TIME learning to use index cards to organize research papers and a term paper using the technique was required for me to graduate high school -- a skill that became obsolete basically the moment I entered college because of computers and the internet and copy/paste and word processing and I never used it.

In junior high the state Constitution test, which was required, required us to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution. I don't actually remember the whole preamble, but I do remember it's 52 words long because our teacher was constantly like, "Come on, guys, it's only 52 words!" I even went to law school and I've never needed to know the preamble.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:02 PM on January 12, 2017

I have a friend who has a GED and was just offered the same type of job I have (I have a master's), so clearly you don't actually need anything I learned in college or grad school to do the job. (this is not meant to sound bitter in any way; it's the truth)
posted by AFABulous at 3:08 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

The bar exam is a 2-3 day timed test where you are expected to be able to write essays and answer questions about legal principles, from memory, with no ability to research or edit your work.

If there's a circumstance where an attorney would write anything without doing substantial legal research, or would talk solely about general principles instead of citing to specific statutes or cases or regulations, or would write something for an hour and then submit it without revision, I haven't yet encountered it.

I get why, even though I don't practice family law or real estate or contracts, the state bar might want me to know something about those things. Because legal issues overlap and sometimes I need to be able to advise a client to seek a second opinion about something outside of my area of expertise. What I don't understand is why, in order to become a lawyer, I had to be able to regurgitate from memory the order of priority for the exercise of competing interests in negotiable securities. I have never needed to know that, or anything close to that. I actually had to google it as I was writing this question to make sure I actually had the terminology correct, and I still think I might have used the wrong words.

The bar is a very stupid way to verify whether or not someone will be any good at being a lawyer.
posted by decathecting at 3:32 PM on January 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh also in the 7th grade I had a not very good history teacher who, instead of teaching us actual American history, spent 3 straight months playing his own homegrown game of Presidential trivia Jeopardy. To this day, I can still name the 5 (circa 1993--now there's one more) presidents who went to Harvard College, and name LBJ's daughters, and tell you where various presidents were born or died or what kinds of pets they had. That information has only ever been useful when I'm watching actual Jeopardy and can impress my friends by telling the TV that James Buchanan was the last president born in the 1700s and that Franklin Pierce refused to swear the oath of office, and instead affirmed it.
posted by decathecting at 3:38 PM on January 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

My high school biology lessons frequently involved sketching diagrams of what we saw down a microscope, and my teachers swore blind that this skill -- not just recognising and understanding what we saw, but actually being able to draw it well -- was crucial, and we were examined on it.

I'm a PhD biologist who uses a microscope most days, and the idea of recording data by sketching it is laughable, just as it already was when I was being taught it in school.

(Still bitter for being marked down in biology for being bad at art? Perish the thought.)

Along a slightly similar line, UK medical students are required to be able to look at micrographs of stained tissue samples and be able to identify the tissue it came from (I.e. which part of which organ, and in which orientation it was cut), what histological stain was used on it, and what if any pathology is evident. You can see the point of hammering home the knowledge as a teaching technique, but there'll simply never be a situation when they have to first identify a mystery sample then make a diagnosis based on it, without ever referring to the extensive stack of notes that comes with it.

Finally for now, a friend of mine is in the merchant navy and had to demonstrate that he could navigate the container ship by astrolabe. He says it's hard to imagine a situation that took all the navigation and communication equipment (including handheld backups) offline but left the ship capable of movement, so it's just in case the Americans decide to turn off GPS, apparently.
posted by metaBugs at 4:10 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a graphic designer. I truly appreciate what I learned getting my BFA, but I think it's true for most designers that you learn more the first month at a real job than you do in 4 years in college. I'm not saying that other designers don't need to know these things, but for me, personally, they haven't come up in 10 years:

We always presented our work in school, from concepts to finished pieces, spray mounted on matboard. Other than learning important presentation skills, I have never presented work in this way, and if I did that for every round of review I would be losing gobs of money for the wasted time and materials. Clients want to see rounds of review in PDFs via email to keep things moving. (I can still freehand a straight line or circle with an x-acto knife though, I do use that to impress my crafty ladyfriend on occasion.)

We were required to write detailed design/creative briefs that required weeks of research, starting with competitor research and inspiration boards and lots of background on all design projects. I expected this would be the most important part of my job once I graduated. As it turns out, designers rarely write creative briefs, that's something that's generally provided by a client. What would have been useful would be learning to write proposals and estimates, which focus a lot less on strategy and more on "here is the service I will provide, this is what you are providing, here is what it will cost" and you need to be able to figure that out fast.

We had several classes entirely on print prepress that has never been relevant to what I actually need to know to release a job to print, which I actually do everyday — the classes were full of obscure stuff that would come in handy if I worked for a commercial printer. I'm never expected to know this stuff; I have print reps who are happy to assist me with file setup on complicated jobs.

In earlier education, I was good at math but hated it, and knew early on that the intersection of what I was good at and what I enjoyed doing was going to be art-related. My high school guidance counseler yelled "you're never going to get into a good college if you haven't taken calculus!" at me when I needed permission to drop it my senior year and take a community college basic drawing class instead. I would like to write that guy a letter telling him how wrong he is, as that art class is what got me into a well-regarded, private art school that required a portfolio review for admission. That class taught me how to see and I use it every single day.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:23 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had to pass calculus to get a theology degree.

Obviously if you want to calculate the volume of angel on the head of a pin, you start with a differential angel element and integrate the height function over the area.

I needed calculus all the time in engineering school. It's how they derive all the formulas you use. I think I've used it once as a professional, and I was very proud of myself when I did.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:24 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

To get my Electrician Journeyman Licence I had to demonstrate the ability to perform a load calculation for a hospital. Something no electrician has done in the past 30+ years and never will do. This is because any modern hospital, even of the most minimal instance in the smallest outpost of humanity in Canada, is fully engineered. And it's the engineer who determines power requirements not some general guideline mandated by the Electrical Code. That whole section of the code should be replaced by a single line something to the effect of "as per engineered specification".

The whole exercise is stupid and yet potentially worth 3% of the mark on our qualifying exam so we waste hours of class and review time learning how to apply the code formula.
posted by Mitheral at 5:40 PM on January 12, 2017

Anything Shakespeare related and mitosis (cell division)
posted by txtwinkletoes at 5:47 PM on January 12, 2017

Say it with me, U.S. lawyers: The Rule Against Perpetuities! (Unless you are a trusts and estates lawyer, in which case you do need to know it.) It's sort of famous for being this obscure thing that everybody gets taught in law school, needs to know for the bar, and then never ever uses again. Lawyers get excited on the rare occasions that it comes up in real life.
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:48 PM on January 12, 2017

To become a teacher in Illinois, I had to take a general knowledge test, part of which included Illinois state history. As I already knew I was going to be teaching math, this part irked me.

I've also had the opposite of this experience -- when I was in college, I majored in psychology, and took a course called Modern Psychotherapies that delved into different psychotherapeutic methods and how they could be used in clinical practice. It was offered by the department of Comparative Human Development, and when I petitioned to have it count toward a psychology elective, I was denied.
posted by coppermoss at 5:55 PM on January 12, 2017

I spent a summer at a marine lab, taking a field marine bio course, sketching dozens of different invertebrates that I had recently pulled off the rocks. I have never used that knowledge in a productive way, but I would never give up that summer. On the other hand, I would love back the hundreds of hours I spent in the lab in undergrad, identifying chironomid larvae to genus(though the poster helped get me into grad school, which got me the summer of sketching inverts, so...).
posted by rockindata at 6:27 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of physical exam maneuvers that we're taught in medical school and required to demonstrate proficiency in that are in practice relatively rarely used outside of resource poor/triage/disaster/emergency situations (and honestly, even then...). They're holdovers from a time when labs and imaging either didn't exist or were much harder to access/more expensive. While some maneuvers that have fallen out of favor in real world practice really should be performed more often, a lot of them are not evidence based and exist primarily to confuse medical students.
posted by telegraph at 7:15 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had to take calculus in high school because if you were on the advanced math track, it was the only option as a senior. I really wish I would've been able to take statistics which they now offer at my high school, 20 years later.
posted by epj at 8:42 PM on January 12, 2017

"I have never in my career needed to do x, but I was expected to show I could do x."

Oh, I getcha. In order to become a teacher a few of the things I had to demonstrate proficiency in were speech and language pathology, how to teach students with limited English ability and American Sign Language.

I've never needed to use any S&L technical info or teach a limited English kid. However, my 3 kids all know ASL so sometimes when we go out we use that instead of verbal speech and find that often shopkeepers are far friendlier. ASL is the bomb.

And I suppose this: every year, teachers get trained in what to do if someone comes into the school with a weapon and how to protect the kids by doing several things which I'm not supposed to say because we're not supposed to share that information publicly.

Thankfully I've never had to use that particular training, but I know what to do and have practiced it several dozen times.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:49 AM on January 13, 2017

I thought of another one. I had to learn to calculate the date of Easter in grad school. Literally nobody needs to do this because the already-calculated tables for it go out to something like 4099. And even if someone needs to do it, it takes one guy to calculate the table and one guy to check his work, and creating 2,000 years of table doesn't take more than a few hours.

It is occasionally a good bit of trivia, but Armageddon could hit and I still wouldn't need to do it because the table is in EVERY BIBLE ON THE PLANET.

Presbyterian seminarians (in the US) have to learn Greek AND Hebrew to qualify for ordination (there's a test), and they're very whiney about it because all the other Protestant denominations require just one (or none). Almost none of them ever use it again because congregations are surprisingly uninterested in the etymology of specific words in Isaiah.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:59 AM on January 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Becoming a teacher is basically an exercise in learning things you'll never again need.

Believe it or not, my undergraduate degrees did not prove subject matter competency for the purpose of becoming a teacher. Yes, having a BA in History and a BA in English was not enough...because I earned them in a fully-accredited university two states away.

So I had to study for and pass many, many exams that required the following knowledge:
--advanced linguistics, including vocabulary like phonemes, diphthongs, and morphemes.
--drama and improv activities, including stage direction
--the history of English literature
--the entirety of the US Constitution

And probably a ton of other stuff I've blocked out.

Oh, and about the SAT and cursive: it's a statement to the effect of "I hereby attest and certify that I am the person whose name appears on the registration. Signature" - and EVERY TIME I've administered the test, I basically just write it out on the board for students to copy because OF COURSE they don't know cursive.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:19 PM on January 13, 2017

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