Relevance is not the holy grail

(disclaimer: this post is me “thinking out loud, so I apologize for any lack of clarity)

Yes, relevance is a worthy goal, but it should not be our only goal.

What about learning for learning sake? Scientists learn out of curiosity, not utility. My favorite learning topic is not of much use to me (philosophy of technology).

Understanding footprints in rock is not relevant to students, but every student had ideas & wanted to share their thinking as we tried to figure out some footprint fossils. We (teachers) are not future predictors. There us some value in exposing students to diverse information. I hope my students develop flexibility in their thinking & a love for all learning, not just “relevant” learning. We send a dangerous message if we imply to students that only relevant learning is valuable.

This entry was posted in Goals for Students, Learning, Reflection and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Relevance is not the holy grail

  1. Aaron Eyler says:


    I agree and disagree at the same time. Relevance shouldn’t be the optimal target in T&L. However, I also think there is something important that a lot of teachers miss when it comes to discussing relevance. I think that teachers work so hard to make what students learn relevant that they fail to show students how to make connections.

    Why would a student ever need to find relevance in something they learn if they have someone providing all the relevance for them?

    Finding relevance is a skill. One that many kids today fail to comprehend because they have someone doing it for them.

    Relevance is important to student development and engagement, but if we continue to do all their work for them, then they won’t be able to find relevance or meaning on their own. So much for the whole “lifelong learner” idea.


  2. Joan Young says:

    Your post reminds me that often as educators/learners we get stuck on a concept or strategy that we think will solve all of our problems. Many have grasped on to “relevance” as one of those magic bullets that will engage kids. We all must face the fact that there is no magic bullet! Aaron has a good point that we need to teach kids how to do their own thinking, to make connections, and determine if and how some new learning is relevant to them.
    I think that you have hit on some important ideas here and now I am rambling as well! There is power in discovery and exploration; we need to fight hard to keep our learning environments safe havens for risk-taking and critical thinking.


  3. jerridkruse says:

    Helping students be independent is often paid only lip service. I think what both of you are talking about is helping students develop that independence.

    Also, Joan, the magic bullet rhetoric is used with more than just relevance. The only magic bullet would be to give every students a high quality teacher.


    • John Spencer says:

      bullets are deadly

      I don’t want them

      magic or not

      how about magic seeds? Jack and the Beanstalk style? I do believe in magic seeds – powerful little mustard seeds that someday move mountains


  4. Steve Davis says:

    I agree one hundred percent with this post! I especially like your comments about students being diverse and curious learners…

    How does a student know a concept is relevant to them if they have not explored the nuances of the concept and made personal connections?


  5. Pingback: Relax on the Collaboration « Cooperative Catalyst

  6. John Spencer says:

    I thought art was irrelevant, but fun. It turns out I use it all the time – pictures on the board, drawings on my blog, murals with students. I believed Trig was relevant and I have never been asked to do a trigonometric proof in my life.

    I think relevance still matters. Students need to know, at least in a vague sense, how learning relates to their life.


    • jerridkruse says:

      Of course relevance matters, but fained (sp?) relevance does little good to the student. Sometimes we do not know how new learning will be relevant. And I like the argument “Did you think?…then it was relevant.”


  7. Paul Bogush says:

    Relevance does not have to equal usefulness.


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