General Question

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

What subject in education is the most valuable in your opinion?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (32883points) September 9th, 2011

“Reading, writing, and arithmetic” so the saying goes. These are the principle pillars of education. My father grew up quite literally in the Dust Bowl and learned little else, until he got to the army. He credits his mathematical prowess with his entry into the Army Air Corp, and his subsequent successes in life.

In my opinion, reading is more fundamental. Without it, one can hardly do anything at all. Whereas with it, one can read the math textbooks to learn those concepts.

In your opinion, is one of these subjects the most important, or is it one not listed here?

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42 Answers

jrpowell's avatar

Don’t you automatically remove mathematics with how you phrased things?

If you knew enough to get by in all three I would say mathematics is the most important to excel at.

missingE's avatar


I love the social sciences and humanities, but math skills are essential. And, in this economy, it’s also the most marketable/valuable.

Jellie's avatar

Mathematics. I have no study to back this up but I have noticed in my life that peolpe who are good at mathematics are generally very intelligent and practical.

Jeruba's avatar

I think language skills are the most essential. Many subject areas, especially those involving process knowledge rather than content knowledge, can lead to wonderful career opportunities. But your language skills permeate everything, including those subject areas.

Language skills will precede you when you apply for work. Some employers won’t read past your resume. Those skills will also color your reception in interviews and hence affect your chances of being hired.

In fact, they affect how people perceive you all your life. If you are well-spoken, you represent yourself well. If you sound stupid or ignorant, people will think you are stupid or ignorant, even if you’re not.

What’s more, many jobs involve representing your employer, either internally or externally: as a manager or group leader, as a sales rep, as a client liaison, and so on. If you express yourself well in speech and in writing, if you are quick to understand the words of others, if you master new material quickly, you have a great advantage.

You can always find someone to help you with math. But your language is part of your presence; you can’t put it aside and take care of it later because it’s part of being there, on the spot, in any situation.

I have never, ever heard anyone say “The time I spent learning good English was wasted” or “I wish I hadn’t bothered to learn to read and write well.”

Aethelflaed's avatar

I’m going to say basic – basic, not complex – math. Adding, subtracting, multiplication and division tables, counting. Reading, tons and tons of people got by for centuries not being able to read. And yes, reading is much bigger now (and I’m thrilled), but there’s no point in history where people didn’t need to count money and use it to pay for things. Paying the cobbler for your shoes, knowing how many pounds of wool to buy at the market, being able to count the coins and know if you were shortchanged… So on a basic survival level, basic math is more important.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Critical thinking. Teaching it is a dieing art unfortunately.

ucme's avatar

Whichever one a child flourishes in. For me it was spelinng ;¬}

chewhorse's avatar

Reading, writing and basic math.. Once these are learned, you’ve completed 75% of your education (all the rest is just the cream on top).

Cruiser's avatar

I don’t consider reading a “subject” as most people learn to read before they even start school. Language and language arts is where a person learn to communicate. Language will teach you IMO the single most important skill a person can learn is how to form, create and convey a clear concise thought. Skillful execution of all other subjects are essentially dependent upon this skill.

Seelix's avatar

Language skills – reading, writing and effective communication. No matter who you are, you’re not going to get very far if you can’t express yourself effectively.

Jellie's avatar

This is what I’ve noticed about people who can’t read and write very well. Yes they come across as less educated and not too well read, but a charming personality and street smarts can compensate for that. I’ve learned in life what is important in life is learning how to influence people and win them over. A sophisticated language and an arsenal of topics to discuss is not the only thing that can do that for you.

jasper1890's avatar

Apart from reading and writing up to an adequate level, it has to be maths.

Everywhere you look and everything you do involve maths in one way or another.

LostInParadise's avatar

Mathematics requires linguistic skills. To formulate a problem and to talk about its solution must be done with language. Basic language skills must come first.

filmfann's avatar

When I read what others write, I often take note of their English skills. If someone cannot write well, it is an indication they are less educated. Language skills rank highest.
Math skills are very important, as well, and cross boarders and languages. Math is the second most important skill.

St.George's avatar

Language – Communication.

Carly's avatar

If I didn’t know how to read, write and critically think I wouldn’t be able to learn any of the other subjects, think about how they fit into my life and then articulate my feelings in writing. I also feel that the more your read and write, the naturally you become better at speaking.

So English, of course.

bkcunningham's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake, I look at education as an ongoing process in life and in our educational system. To me, the essential building blocks for all other institutional or life learning is reading and comprehension.

My mother had a third grade education. She could read and comprehend and taught herself to do many things that some college graduates couldn’t master. She read our school textbooks and helped us with homework for our secondary education classes. I never sold a college text. I gave them to my mom who devoured them.

stardust's avatar

I agree with @Seelix

iphigeneia's avatar

Literacy skills are the most important. Being able to speak and write well is vital in almost every field of study and work. Especially as careers become more services- and information-based, the ability to express oneself intelligently is an indispensable tool.

CWOTUS's avatar

This is like asking which leg of a three-legged stool is the most important.

mattbrowne's avatar

I agree with @CWOTUS – The only thing that might stand out a little is learning how to learn. This should be covered to a greater extent, especially during the final years of high school education.

GracieT's avatar

What about something that teaches basic life skills such as reading, enough math to survive as well (like balancing a checkbook), taking care of children. I know that everything else is important, but I think a class that teaches basic skills of survival is too important to neglect.

TexasDude's avatar

History, but that’s just because I’m biased. :-p

Blueroses's avatar

Aside from the basic foundations, the singlemost useful subject I studied was the origin of words. It was a pain in the ass at the time, memorizing huge lists of roots, suffixes, affixes and rules but once I had that, it prepared me for learning foreign languages, medical, mathematical, legal, mechanical terminology. When the words make sense, it’s easier to grasp new concepts.

GracieT's avatar

Actually, @Blueroses, that’s why I still (many years later!) look at taking four years of Latin as the most intelligient thing I’ve ever done. Knowing many Latin words and what they meant has helped me in many ways. I am forever grateful to my Latin teacher!

SpatzieLover's avatar

Common sense.

Coloma's avatar

I think emotional intelligence and a hefty dose of learning self awareness would be an invaluable addition to the 3 “R’s”. Doubtful it will ever happen, but, if it did, it would be life changing on a global level.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Critical thinking. You can get a lot of information with those basic three, but being able to make sense and read throught the lines will make any subject go further.

Aethelflaed's avatar

So question to all the people who said language: Why does language have to include reading and writing? Tons of people have language that do not have a grasp on the written word.

Blueroses's avatar

@Aethelflaed Those people could communicate with each other but how would they communicate outside of their group?

SpatzieLover's avatar

@Blueroses Many former slaves did not read or write. I’ve just finished this book and it is clear the George was brilliant well before he learned to read/write at the age of 98. He had oodles of life experience, and common sense. Even if he hadn’t been able to read/write, he easily could have shared his expereinces via dictation.

My son has Asperger’s. We’re fortunate because it appears he reads & writes well. Many with AS must dictate and use audio materials even though many are at genius level.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Blueroses Well, it’s not like if a person who’s illiterate says to me (verbally) “Can you hand me that screwdriver” I can’t tell what they’re saying unless they write it down. Having different languages is a barrier, but the ability to read and write in English (and only English) doesn’t help me communicate with someone who only speaks, reads, and writes in only Farsi any more than someone who can only speak English but can’t read or write it.

Blueroses's avatar

Of course there are exceptional people who can do what is needed to communicate, but this question was about generality. Generally, given an equal ability to learn, what is most useful?

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Blueroses Well, no, not quite. It asked which subject is most useful – language, on the most basic level, isn’t something we teach in school. We don’t teach the spoken word until advanced levels, and then it’s more about debate and rhetoric and fine-tuning skills that they already have. Children learn to talk and speak and comment on a joke and ask for apple juice and say that their knee hurts and can you please put a bandage and kiss on it long before we teach them to read “Go Dog Go” or write “My mother is pretty”. And if we didn’t teach the written words, they would still learn language through absorbtion so long as they were around other people. It’s not like during times when only clerics knew how to read and write, the rest of the population was incapable of communicating on any level; in fact, we can look at stories that were originally only oral and were eventually written down (The Illiad, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, etc) as evidence of just how much of a complex and nuanced gasp people had on language without any kind of written word. Hell, there were total societies that totally didn’t have the written word and were still mind-boggling complex; you don’t have complex burial rituals and tombs if you don’t have language.

Taz0007's avatar

I’d love to say science because that’s my passion but it has to be language (as in English Language…picking apart literature etc etc). If a kid is interested in reading and motivated to do so, they may be naturally good at studying. The more/faster they read the more they’ll pick up and easier they could find it to learn…anything at all!
Wish I’d got on with it in my English lessons…oops

iphigeneia's avatar

@Aethelflaed A student’s whole educational experience will depend on their writing skills. Many people have complained that because of the emphasis on literacy, boys are disadvantaged, and while that’s a whole other can of worms, a student who cannot write or read at a high level is likely to become frustrated with the system and not pursue education beyond what is compulsory. Someone can grasp the theory behind a subject, but they need to be able to write an essay to pass, or get into the course in the first place.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@iphigeneia Yeah. And I’m not trying to say that literacy isn’t important, and that we shouldn’t teach it. I think we should bring back compulsory Latin (or at the very least, make offering it for students who would like to take it compulsory). But I read the question of what is the most valuable as what would be the one subject people really couldn’t survive in a basic, everyday way without, and that’s basic math. Sure, you need literacy to continue your education, but you can survive without continuing your education. You cannot survive without food, water, clothing, and shelter, which require some handling of money or trade, which requires basic math.

iphigeneia's avatar

@Aethelflaed Ah, I think the thing is that the level of maths required to survive is extremely basic, something that we assume students will achieve early on. On the other hand, the language skills that will affect a student’s career can be far more advanced.

HungryGuy's avatar

Everything else follows from being able to read.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@iphigeneia I don’t think we can assume it. For starters, it’s a learned skill, not just something your DNA is encoded to give you once you hit age 8, and secondly because of all the people who went through those grades and still have trouble with it. And, I don’t see how “most valuable” means “except all those basic ones we can assume kids already know”. By that logic, we can assume kids know how to read, and so we should really focus on more advanced things like rhetoric. And math skills can be advanced, and have a great impact on a person’s life.

Joker94's avatar

I stopped learning math that applied to every day life about five years ago, so I’d have to go with English.

faye's avatar

I think the sciences are most important. All life is chemistry, a friend tells me. Of course, chemistry is full of maths and science not written down is lost so…

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