For what? So what?? Who Cares???

This post has been cooking in my head for some time now - so who knows where it will end up by the end. ;)

I have found myself, for better or worse, asking the series of questions: "For what? So what? Who cares?" for the past month or so now as I encounter additional research on teaching/learning and technology-use in learning.  Actually, take that back.  I could broaden it to much of what I've encountered regardless of subject-specificity.

What's incredibly debilitating to motivation is that final question: Who cares?

The path that I have chosen (for now) is that of a scholar.  I have viewed the academy with reverence for many years, acknowledging it's quirks and monsters along the way.  My view of scholarship is an intricate web of human relationships, knowledge, communication, teaching, learning, exploration, imagination, and spirit.  I am called by the charge to help others become more aware of the choices that they have in life and, thank the morbid humor of Ben Franklin, we're either going to hang separately or hang together - so why not stick together?

That ended up more dark than I had wanted, but it gets the point across.

What I can't shake is that there is a large proportion of individuals within academia that cannot answer these questions - or haven't even considered that such questions exist and need answering!

A primary example that is coming to me now (and comes quite frequently) is anything involving educational "achievement" and its "inherent" association with numerical value.  Or - even better - the idea of standardization and normalization within social science research.  Makes my skin crawl.

"By 2014, 94% of all WhoCares County children will be at or above grade level."  Here we go:

  • Who the heck decided that 2014 was a good year?  Out of a hat?  What were the variables considered?  Were classroom teachers consulted?  How about the students?  How do they feel about the year 2014?

  • Who is going to be ensuring that this happens?  The school board?  Principals?  Central Office?

  • What is "grade level"?  Who decided that?  Is a grade level static or malleable?

  • Why would one want to be "above" grade level?

  • How will all of this nonsense be measured?  Tests?

  • Who wrote the tests?  Who's grading them?  Are tests the best measure of this?

  • Can learning be quantified?

  • Can learning be standardized?

  • What happens when (pigs fly) this goal is met?  Are we done then?  What happens if we don't meet the goal?  Who is to blame?  The students?  The teachers? The parents?  The school board?  The test?  The test graders?  The weather?

  • For what?

  • So what?

  • Who cares?

Let's leave education for a moment.  Psychology.  "By what age to children realize that plagiarism is wrong?"  This is an actual title of a publication that just came through my Reader.


If I read this paper, would I - realistically - walk away with the precise age at which all children everywhere children get that copying someone else's work is maybe not the best idea?  What does that tell me then?  What would I do with that information?  Let's say that age is 10.6 years old.  Do we gather all the students age 10.6 in America and give them a lesson on plagiarism?  Then they'll be good to go?  What happens if they aren't good to go?  Who's fault is it?  Most would say - of course!  It's the kids fault!

And here we come back to... WHO CARES???

Some might argue, "Well, this information can't really say that this is true for ALL children EVERYWHERE. We'd have to do further studies on other children in other cultures to get a reliable age."

Even if you sampled children from every population and culture on the planet, we still have not gotten to the ultimate question... WHO CARES?

We need to be asking serious questions here, and among them are For what, So what, and Who cares.  Or, we could sum them all into one: WHY?

As a final example I want to reflect on an interesting phenomenon that happens now in the process of school.  I'm sure there is a "scientific" name or theory for this, but I'll reference it as the Greener Grass Theorem.  Or, the What's Next Hypothesis.

Has anyone else realized that every "level" of education (read: schooling) is now focus on preparing children for the NEXT level of education (or next steps, at least)?  Preschool is now almost mandatory (culturally) and it's job is to get pre-5 years olds for Kindergarten.  Then, around third or fourth grade, teachers and parents start talking about getting students ready for middle school.  Being in middle school doesn't last long because around the end of sixth grade parents start getting nervous about high school.  So now middle school's job is to prepare high schoolers.  And then high schools are meant to prepare kids for college.  And, my favorite one of all, college is meant to prepare one for... a job.  And then?

We used to just shake our heads when parents would get frustrated with us as middle school teachers when we assured them that our job wasn't to turn their 11 year olds into high schoolers.  Our job is to teach middle schoolers.  They're fine just the way they are.  And you know what?  They'll learn in HIGH SCHOOL what they need to learn in HIGH SCHOOL.

Same with university.  Universities complain all the time (and I think they always have) that students "aren't prepared" for the level of work that is expected of them.  Um, they weren't born college students.  And - shocking as it may be - high school teachers are supposed to teach HIGH SCHOOL students.  Not future COLLEGE STUDENTS.

The best one of all: that universities should prepare students for jobs.  How many people - really and truly - were 100% prepared for their job or career when they left college?  Really?

Actually - there's another piece of the puzzle I left out.  Maybe the best one yet!  Businesses complain that universities don't prepare students who are ready to come to work!  (Thus, university is about prepping students to become job-holders.)  I don't think you'll be surprised to know what I think of this.

The number of people in my life that have completed an undergraduate degree in what they thought was going to be their career and actually got a job in that career and find that career is all that they dreamed it would be ... is next to zero.  No one.

Newsflash.  Business don't care about group work and team work and creative thinking.  With only a few rare exceptions, they want you to show up on time, work your butt off for a small amount of money, ignore your bodily needs and your friends and family, so that they can make money.  They don't care how you feel about it and they don't want your ideas about how to make things better or how to improve the workplace experience.  They. Want. To. Make. More. Money.  (With the fewest number of employees possible.)

Education is about expanding our minds, tapping our creativity, nourishing our souls, developing deeper relationships with and greater understanding for other peoples, and realizing the awe-inspiring creatures that we are and the incredible ability we have to create, reflect on, and serve the world.

Schooling is about desks in a row, tests, raised hands, grades, competition, suppressed emotions, discipline, life-sucking structure, standardization, normalization, control, powerless individuals, following directions, never challenging assumptions, agreement with authority, boredom, and lack of critical reflection.

I'm going to keep asking myself those questions.  Because I had better be able to answer them in such a way that I can honor my own integrity and get up and face the day each day knowing that I'm here to do something worthwhile.

I want to be a scholar.  I want to help others.  My job is not to prepare people for their jobs or careers.  Their jobs/careers can handle that.  The What's Next Hypothesis assumes that learning stops once you have a job.  Not so, and it is baffling to think that so many people continue to support such a backwards way of approaching life and education.

Ask yourself and let your reflections on your answers guide your next steps:

  • What I'm doing, what I'm reading, what's it good for?

  • So what?

  • Who cares?

  • Why am I doing this?


  1. [...] wrote a post last week on asking the big questions (For what? So what?) within the framework of my graduate work. If [...]


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