A former student of mine at some point had a facebook status that read,
Why should I study something I don’t care about? Why should teachers teach something they don’t care about?
Actually, to be 100% accurate, the student’s status said that this was in someone else‘s status. But still…
“Why should I study something I don’t care about?” is a question that sounds more reasonable than it actually is. Where you are at 17 — or at 5, or at 38 — is not who you will be your whole life. Sometimes, indeed often, you don’t have the experience or wisdom to know what’s important. (This is a generic “you”, not a some-particular-student “you”.) And sometimes, to get to the good stuff, there really is other stuff you have to go through or learn. That’s a part of life. I’d even argue it’s not a bad part of life. Things you learn should be meaningful, and that meaning should be clear. But you aren’t done, yet, and what you care about is simply not the whole total of what’s worth knowing or doing. It isn’t for anybody.
I guess fundamentally I disagree strongly with the proposition that “what I care about” is synonymous with “what is important”. There’s an arrogance in that which is every bit as haughty and unjustified as the “We’re the teachers so we decide what is important” tack. It’s so inward-focused it’s very nearly solispistic.
To be fair, I am somewhat assigning motivations on the assumption that the point of asking “Why should I study something I don’t care about?” is to offer as an answer “You shouldn’t”. If the question is a legitimate call for information, it’s perfectly valid. Students should demand to know why they are studying what they are asked to study, how it moves them along toward their goals or what it achieves. Teachers should continually ask (themselves and others) why they cover what they do. So as long as the questioner is intellectually honest enough to be open to the possibility that there could be things worth studying even if the questioner doesn’t particularly care about them — as long as that’s true, it’s a good question.