#CaEdChat is going on right now. I’m no doubt missing dozens of witty, hastily-typed tweets to type this, but I think it’s important.

Tonight, #CaEdChat is discussing questions, and I heard this one kicked around a lot, and I want to share my response to it.

This isn’t about the question that gets teachers the most excited. It’s also not the boringest question we get all year.

It’s not the easiest question to answer, nor is it the hardest (though many teachers seem to think it is).

It’s the question that new teachers fear, but veteran teachers still wince when we hear it.

This question is one that drove us to become teachers in the first place, and it’s still being asked now, decades after we asked it to our teachers, and our children and grandchildren will ask their teachers:

Why do we need to know this?

I usually get this question about 3 weeks into the year. If not, I pull it out with the first really abstract Math topic that we get. This year it was Classifying Real Numbers.

I got through the meat of the lesson and said,

Okay, put down your pencils, fold your hands and look at me. You’re probably wondering by now when you will use this in real life, yes? I’m going to tell you.

You won’t.

Odds are that most of you will go to jobs where you don’t need to do this [point to the board] in your career. However, it’s still important. Here’s why:

When I was in college, I used the same workout room as the football players. One day, I was lifting weights across from this huge guy. He picked up these massive weights and did this:

I was surprised, so I asked him, “Bro. Why are you doing that? Shouldn’t you practice sprints or throwing a football or something you’ll actually use?”

He responded, “Dude-ski, I may not use this motion in the game, but I use this muscle in the game, fo shizzle*.”

“I’m so glad I did those calf raises!”

Students, the math you learn in this class will work out your brain in ways that you will use. You will likely never need to classify real numbers in your profession, but because you worked out your brain, you’ll be smarter. You’ll be a better boyfriend, girlfriend, boss, employee, and friend.

Is that a fair answer?

So far, that answer has satisfied every class in my teaching career.

~Matt “Honest Abe” Vaudrey

*If the slang terms wasn’t clue enough on the decade when I was in college, here’s a picture of me and my roommates.