Why Take Chemistry, Anyway?

You and I both know the reason that you’re taking chemistry:  Somebody is making you. Either somebody in Washington, DC wants you to take chemistry, or somebody at your state board of education, or your local board of education, or somebody at the district or school level.  Neither of us knows exactly who that somebody is, but we both know that there would be a lot fewer chemistry students if he or she didn’t exist.

So, why is that somebody making you take chemistry?  Though they won’t admit it, here are the reasons you’re stuck doing this:

  • Making everybody take chemistry is good for making it sound as if elected officials have “high standards for today’s youth.”
  • Other countries do it, and we’re afraid that if all Americans don’t take chemistry that they’ll take over (or something like that).
  • Your parents had to take chemistry, so everybody just assumes that it’s important for some reason.
  • The American Chemical Society keeps pushing chemical education because outreach programs make them look good and earn them money.
  • Teacher unions need to keep chemistry teachers employed.

OK… that’s not exactly the best set of reasons to do anything.  Based on this, it seems as if education standards and policy are made by idiots.  Which it is.

However, there are some very good reasons for taking chemistry that your teachers secretly know about:

  • Learning chemistry will make you smarter in other ways.  Let’s be honest:  Very few of you will be doing stoichiometry calculations after this year.  However, it’s been shown that if you learn a lot of new stuff before about age 20, it helps to make connections within your brain that help it to process more effectively.  Even if you don’t do stoichiometry, having learned how to do it will still benefit you.
  • You won’t fall for scam artists that prey on ignorance to make a buck.  Not that Bill Nye would try to make money by selling you “ionized water” with “oxygen nanobubbles” or anything.
  • You’ll learn some neat stuff.  Is that a good reason for studying a subject?  Why not? If you can spend time at school learning how to play a tuba or making art (both of which are neat things to do), why not spend time learning about how the world works?

Chemistry may not be the only interesting thing in the world, and I’ll be the last person to tell you that you’ll need to know much of this stuff once you grow up.  However, chemistry is more useful than you can imagine right now because it gives you a different way of looking at the world.  And that’s important.

Plus you get to set stuff on fire.


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