As I wrote in the post about why education is meaningful, I was a staunch believer that most education was useless. Past tense (“was”) is key here. Having lived longer, I see the value of all education, and I wish that I had valued all education more when I was in school.
Here is an example of using education that I had previously thought useless.
I am a big fan of fire pits. They allow me to be outside even when it is cold, and they facilitate my two favorite activities: reading by myself and talking with friends and family. To those ends, I purchased a fire pit for my backyard. To do so, I did a lot of research: should I get one of stone, cast iron, copper, or steel? Should it burn wood or propane? All those annoying research projects from school come in handy later in life. Research projects teach you to 1) ask the right questions, 2) look for answers, 3) sort through a large amount of information, and 4) pull out the relevant information, weigh pros and cons, and make an informed conclusion or decision. After my research, I decided on copper for a variety of reasons (such as the fact that it does not rust).
I set up my fire pit, grabbed a flashlight and a book, started the fire, and sat down to relax. But, I couldn’t. Too much smoke. Was this normal? I did not think so. I had purchased kiln-dried firewood (because, after also researching firewood, I found out drier wood produces less smoke, burns better, etc), so I knew the firewood was not the problem. However, in looking at the fire pit, I realized it is fairly deep and there are no holes in the sides to let in oxygen. Without oxygen, wood goes from its burning phase (high heat output, little smoke, and smoke that is produced is carried upward in a convection column of rising hot air) to its smoldering phase (low heat output, more smoke, and smoke spreads outwards from the fire because there is not enough heat to carry it upwards). Learning about combustion and oxidation in high school chemistry apparently was useful.
So, too little oxygen was likely the problem. What should I do? Suffer from the smoke? Get a new fire pit? Or, find a way to add oxygen? Definitely the latter. What I needed were holes in the side of the fire pit to allow a flow of oxygen to reach the flames. To do that, I needed to drill through the copper, but I had never drilled through metal. Back to research. How do I drill through metal?
It turns out I needed a special drill bit, either titanium coated or cobalt. I decided on cobalt and bought lubricant to reduce the friction generated from the drilling (heat dulls the drill bit faster and, chemistry knowledge again, causes metal to expand, which would constrict the holes I was trying to drill).
Next came drilling the holes. I could have just drilled a bunch of random holes. But that would look terrible. Art class came in handy. I am not saying the holes were a work of art, but I drilled them in a pattern and everyone who comments on them is surprised to find out that I drilled them – the fire pit looks like it came with the holes drilled (see video below).
End result? A much better fire with almost no smoke. What did it take? Education. Specifically, research skills (primarily from English classes), chemistry (to understand combustion), mathematics (to know which products and materials were the best purchase given their price, quality, and characteristics), and an eye and hand for art so that the holes did not look horrendous. Now I have a fire pit perfect for reading outside in the evening or relaxing and talking with friends.
It is impossible to predict what knowledge will help a person in the future. It is much better to learn as much as one possibly can to best equip oneself for the future. And, even if the knowledge does not directly help, the act of learning, thinking, and memorizing sharpens our minds and helps us learn, think, and remember other skills and knowledge that will directly help us. Even if we cannot see its direct effect in the present, all education matters.