What We Really Learn at Latin

, knowledgeable teachers and hard-working classmates. From the minute we enrolled at Latin, we made a commitment to put forth our maximum academic effort, which often entails staying up until 1:00 in the morning studying for a test or working tirelessly to figure out a math problem that must be impossible. But what is the cause for such a commitment? For such a valiant, sweating effort to meet with your teachers and to understand the material and to get good grades? Naturally, students at one of the best private high schools in the country often feed into some of the most renowned academic institutions in the world. Every year Latin students matriculate into top-notch colleges around the country; last year’s senior class sent students to Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, among many other exceptional schools. In Niche’s recent private high school rankings, we were awarded an A+ in Educational Outcomes, which was based on a statistical analysis of average SAT and ACT scores, college placement, and alumni job opportunities. Our student body is clearly successful in academia–we get into the world’s most elite universities and subsequently get plenty of job opportunities. But is this why we do it? Is this why we arduously work on our homework and come to school each day with an internalized necessity to go to all of our classes and will our brain to focus? I’d argue that it is more than getting into college. It’s even more than finding your passions or enjoying the process of learning. When we come to school every day and go to all of our classes, we are learning more than it seems. Of course, when we go to math class we learn math, and when we go to English class we learn how to write, etc. But we learn even more than that. We learn discipline and resilience and empathy and self-advocacy. We learn life skills that can only be taught through the disguise of a class. But still, many students, including myself, complain and get frustrated about subjects that “are pointless,” or that “we’ll never use again for the rest of our lives,” or that simply “don’t make sense!” So why do schools around the world continue to teach these things that seem pointless to the students? Why can’t those who are just interested in English, history, and math, for example, attend English class, history class, and math class, and those who are just interested in science and language attend science class and language class? Because when we stare at the Shakespeare play for hours and just can’t understand it, we learn discipline and perseverance. And when we have tried all day to figure out one math problem that we have deemed with certainty impossible, but work with our classmates to reach an answer, we learn collaboration. And when we get a bad grade on a test and meet with our teacher to better understand our mistakes and do well on the next one, we learn resilience and self-advocacy. We learn countless life skills that will make us happy, successful people. Many teachers at Latin strive to focus their classes around these important skills that lie beneath their surface subject. Upper school math teacher, Mr. McArthur, who teaches a section each of Trigonometry, Functions, Honors Precalculus, and Honors Algebra 2, hopes that all of his students learn to “appreciate the value of working hard, and how that is so important to their growth. To me, hard work, creativity, and the ability to collaborate with others are far more important than any ‘math skill’ you bring into the classroom.” Mr. McArthur hopes that this approach to a mathematics class will cause his students to “develop intrinsic motivation to keep exploring the subject for years to come.” Danielle Martin, a student of Mr. McArthur’s Honors Precalculus class, certainly agrees that she is learning more than just math. She claims that one of the most important things that she has learned from his class is, “how to work with my peers and how to listen to and respect their ideas. This class has also taught me how to accept and overcome failure, and the importance of perseverance.” So the next time you think to yourself, “Ugh. I have math next,” think again. Think about what you learn every day from math class that lies beneath the surface. Think about why you made the demanding academic commitment to attend this school in the first place, and then you will understand why having math next isn’t such a bad thing.    ]]>