Useless Things I Learned in School

One of the benefits of the British Education System is that students are offered lots of opportunities to be introduced to new subjects and ideas and as a teacher I believe that a well-rounded education and a love of learning is important. However, not everything that we learn will have a useful impact on our adult lives, and these will differ depending on our strengths, interests and career choices. Sixteen years after I left school, here are some of the things that I learned and have not used since.

1. X = ? (I can imagine my math teacher friends getting irate already). I spent years trying to figure out how much X was worth. Nowadays, X is a number of things – a kiss at the end of a text message, a wrong answer on ‘Family Fortunes,’ part of the new Apple Yosemite operating system and three of them together gives the assumption that something is pornographic, but I certainly haven’t had to find out it’s numerical worth since I became an adult.

2. The composition of different types of soil. During GCSE Geography (which I actually really enjoyed mainly due to the fact I was lucky to have a dynamic young teacher) I had to explore different types of soil in the local area. Fifteen years later, my knowledge of soil is that it takes ages to clean out of the carpet. Time well spent, clearly.

3. The reproductive cycle of the blowfly, complete with live maggots. I had quite a sadistic science teacher who liked to put maggots in his mouth during biology lessons to freak us out. In two years of biology lessons, this is the only thing I remember of his teachings, and I haven’t seen a maggot since.

4. Long division. Calculator anybody?

5. How to say ‘I don’t have any brothers or sisters’ and ‘I have a dog’ in German. While I think it’s important to make an effort to learn new languages, I have two younger sisters and two cats, so even if I were to have a conversation in German I wouldn’t be able to use either sentence. Unfortunately, these are the only two sentences I can remember, I have no German friends and no plans to travel there anytime soon.

6. How to make a replica of my own head using papier mâché and a balloon. Useful for escaping Alcatraz, but not for living everyday life.

7. How to colour around the British Isles in blue pencil crayon. I did this twice in Geography in Year 7 and rocked it both times. Perhaps I should put it on my CV?

8. How to over-analyse poetry, with the only acceptable analysis being provided by the answers according to the exam board that we were studying (cue irate English teacher friends). A potato symbolised the love the poet felt for his father. Really? Why can’t a potato be just a potato?

9. How to copy out of a textbook. I have entire exercise books filled with pages of writing directly taken from a textbook. Now, I just buy the textbook.

10. How to participate in PE lessons in just my underwear. When we forgot our kit, we were sometimes forced to participate in just our pants and a T Shirt. Thank god I haven’t had to do that since – nobody needs to see that!

11. The atomic number for Oxygen, which is 8. I’ve never forgotten it. Unfortunately, this knowledge is completely useless to my life.

12. How to work out the point where trains travelling at different times from different places at different speeds will meet. I travel via train all the time, but it isn’t something I’ve ever taken into consideration. As long as the other train isn’t travelling towards my train on the same track, I’m happy to leave that information alone.

What about you guys? What things did you learn in school that you now deem to be useless in your adult years?

Thanks to Phil at The Phil Factor for today’s inspiration! (When I say inspiration, I mean I have totally stolen his idea). Check out his blog, it’s one of my favourites…

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog, and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page


66 thoughts on “Useless Things I Learned in School

  1. Guten tag Fraulein Suzie! Was ist los? Yeah I took German too and only used it once in adulthood. Great job on the list. P. E. in your underwear as an adult sounds a lot more fun than as a kid.

  2. Fab. Number 12 was the best. Had this question countless times during my US academic journey. As for me, the most useless thing I learned was that E=mc squared. So useless, that I cant even find a little ‘2’ to type. I have never used this formula and doubt I ever will.

  3. What made me laugh is that I have actually used at least half of those things learned in my life, though I am aware that there are plenty of my friends who haven’t. Of course the soil thing was something I only learned about a little in high school and have had to learn more of when I needed it for gardening. (I live in a place where in certain points of our valley there is nothing but red clay six inches into the ground. In other places there’s only sand.)

      • How to find X. Soil Composition (though that’s more of where I live and needed to plant a vegetable garden and then potting herbs and worrying about their drainage than anything else.) Long Division (it was on an application for one of my old jobs and you couldn’t use the calculator on your cell phone as well as for some shopping when my phone wasn’t working right.) Copying out of a textbook (haven’t always been able to either purchase it or copy a page with a printer.) And the traveling one at the end.

        I hadn’t realized I even used these until your article and it made me laugh because I’d been trying to convince my niece that there was a reason for her math classes other than being able to measure for cooking when adjusting the recipe.

  4. German has been pretty useful for me, but then again, I lived in Germany, and 26 years later, I can still speak it. It’s been helpful even when I’ve traveled throughout Europe because I’ve encountered folks who don’t speak English. Kinda nice to have a secondary language to use. (Also has helped me be able to parse other foreign languages based on my knowledge of German.) I think the point is that sometimes, these things come up in odd places in terms of helpfulness.

  5. All about The Civil War, because I live in the former “Capitol of the Confereracy” and sadly some people still think we are fighting that war/are mad that “we” lost. Facts mean nothing in the face of ignorance.

  6. Latin: which included translating Julius Caesar’s “Helvetian wars” as well as learning parts of Virgil’s Aeneid by heart because we were scared of the Latin teacher. I have barely used Latin since school. Knowing the atomic number of Oxygen is 8 is useful for playing trivia quizzes.

  7. Haha! The worst thing now is I have to try and teach what x is damn well worth to PRIMARY children and I, like you never got it, so god help these poor kids. As I don’t see the point of it I find it hard to convey to them the point of it..Not good hey?
    Great post all round! can relate to all of it! Especially the train problem! haha! Think it was meant to help you get your head around the whole distance/velocity/time equation, which shockingly I can’t remember the order of! Bloomin Maths! 😀 And yes as long as one isn’t coming towards me on the same track I couldn’t give a fig when they’ll meet!

    • The only reason why I passed maths was because I was terrified of my teacher and my mother made me revise nightly for about six months before my exam… I would have much rather been taught about loans, interest and mortgages instead – far more useful!

  8. I’m sure there are heaps of useless things but what about things I had the opportunity to learn but never pursued it and now wish I had. For me it would be playing guitar. I tried but gave up as it hurt my fingers and the music teacher was a bit weird (I’m sure there are nice ones too lol). Now I really wish I could play!

  9. I was forced to take cookery lessons at school. My mother asked the headteacher why I had to be taught to cook. Headteacher’s reply, so that I could feed myself when I left home. My mothers response “well he can go to Mark & Spencer like I do and pick up ready meals”. To this day, I still can’t cook anything but beans on toast. Probably because they don’t come as a ready meal in M & S.

    • Haha! I did cookery, or food tech as we called it, but really it was my mum who taught me to cook. In fact, she taught me to sew, iron and knit too. Unfortunately, i very rarely so any of those three!

  10. Surprisingly or shockingly in Italy we use most of what we learn at school mostly in conversations at the dinner table. Latin is a common topic because of the whole Roman Empire story and most words come from Latin. Formulas and math maybe are the least liked, Italians prefer to be philosophers and artists in everything from cooking to building bridges while math is left lonely in its corner.
    I guess I picked this from Italians because when my Russian friends extremely good in math were discussing financial math I was thinking of pasta sauce for dinner!

  11. I really enjoyed reading this, and I agree with you 😉 Seriously, why can’t a poor potato just be a potato? And I say this being a literature student.

    • I still remember the principles of SOH CAH TOA, but I’ve never used them (to my knowledge) in my everyday life, although a friend on facebook gave me an example of when she had the other day. I hated maths – I think we should be taught how to budget, balance cheques and understand loans and mortgages as part of the course…

  12. i used to hate making things out of wood in design and technology, but during a brief stint as a supply teacher I actually got to help out the students sawing things up and really enjoyed it! And number 8 is ok because over-analysis is never fun. If it had been done right you would of course have a life-long love of poetry 🙂

    • I’ve never really been able to get to grips with poetry – there are a few that are beautiful and I follow a few poetry bloggers on here who are great, but I found it quite frustrating that we were told in school what something was supposed to symbolise, and I often disagreed with it…

  13. I totally get that we don’t use these things in everyday life, but the critical thinking skills you used to learn the information are what allow you to speak to intelligently about them today. Think about how boring as individuals we’d be if we didn’t learn such pointless information.

  14. I never learnt how to do long division thanks to spending 6 months in the English education system before moving back to Scotland and chopping and changing year groups in the process. Even while I was at uni doing a physics degree I never learnt it… That’s what calculators are for!

  15. I think learning how to write in script was the most useless lol Although I love being able to, no one does it anymore! They aren’t even teaching the younger generations now! Sigh.

  16. The mass number = atomic number – number of neutrons
    Mass number = protons + neutrons
    Electrons = Protons
    Atomic number = Protons

    I know that off by heart still, hope it’s still right. Has it helped me? Course not! Does it make me laugh that my way of remembering it was “man mopping epic apron”. Totally!

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