Here's the obvious opposite to the "waste of time at school thread"...
Being cured of the fear of snakes
One day, a chap came to my first school to teach us something about wildlife and the like. He was armed with a tank containing a snake, a royal python of some five feet in length (why I've no idea, as far as I know the wildlife of Yorkshire does not include pythons) which curled up in the tank while he nattered at the 330 kids sitting in neat rows, organised in classes, on the cold parquet floor of the assembly hall (it doubled as a gym). On one side of me was Claire, on the other Tom. Along the front of the hall were our teachers, spaced evenly. More were along the back of the hall, so we were surrounded.
Going for the big finish, yer man extracted snakey from the tank and handed it to the first kid in the front row, telling us that snakes were not slimy at all, and suggested he pass it on. The snake was passed along the lines, leaving a trail not of slime but of curiousity, hubbub and occasional fainters. On it went, up to Claire, a horsey lass who would sooner have flown like a bird than faint, to me, I held the snake in my hands and handed it on to Tom.
It was when snakey got back to the front that disaster struck.
We had been told that snakes only defecate once a month, and you can probably guess which day it turned out to be. Yer man handed the snake to my class teacher, Mrs Rayner, a tweedy and hardbitten lady (she had to be with us). Then it happened. There was a noise like cloth tearing and an eruption of snake turdage. All over her, a pool of yellowish liquid and lumps. The hall exploded in laughter.
She froze up as snakey dived to the ground and slithered off through the dark chair store towards the kitchens (I suppose it didn't know).
We were in hysterics, and no-one was in a state to quell us. They were all far too screwed up in corpsing giggles to take coherent action. Finally, our PE teacher Mr Thorpe suppressed his mirth sufficiently to start dabbing at Mrs Rayner's clothing with paper towels. The snakebloke and two teachers headed into the chair store to look for the python, and calm was gradually restored.
Everyone who was there remembers this perfectly. I suppose it was our Kennedy assassination. None of us remember anything of the chap's talk, nor why he was there.
None of my classmates have ever been frightened of snakes.
English, German, Spanish and French. Forgotten most of the Spanish and French, but the odd bit of English has stuck as has German.
Oh, and like Gainsey I learned to swim properly. We didn't roll ciggarettes, but I did learn how to open dad's pack from the rear end, nick one or two, and glue it back together leaving no obvious evidence of the intrusion. If he found out, he never said so. But I'm sure he knew.
Also learned that girls don't really dig the same things as boys, and impressing the girls by pulling their pony tails had rather adverse affects.
Maths was always a toughy at first for me - so I practiced and practiced for hours a day until I was confident and could do each topic with ease. I am so glad I did, and I now consider myself a person who is good with figures and can look at day to day problems and work them out in my mind (obviously a good thing to have if your gonna fly planes of course)
At the time though I would always say to myself "this trigonometry and algebra is a waste of time" but now it is suprising how much you do actually use it. For example, I was hanging up a new dart board the other day outside, and needed to work out the correct height to drill the nail, bearing in mind the bullseye needed to be 5.8 from the ground and the nail in the board wasnt in the middle of the board ! Some quick diagrams soon helped me out.
THE most useful thing? The single most useful thing? As a supporter of the three R's I agree with Davaar that reading is perhaps the most important skill, but like him, I could read before I went to school and my parents can take the credit for that, so I'll plump for Rithmetic. More specifically, what we used to call tables, dunno what they're called now because repetition is seen as destroying creativity or something, but the time spent learning and repeating every simple multiplication up to 12x12 has certainly been put to good use in absolutely countless ways every day of my life.
A study, and not a recent one, (from memory it was about twenty years ago) showed that around 25% of Year 8 students (13 year olds) could not multiply a given number by 10 without using a calculator. I was horrified then, and I would guess the results today wouldn't be any better.
Also missing appears to be the art of estimation. If a child enters 25x7 into a calculator and gets 35,450.62 a sadly large proportion will accept it as correct.
I am rambling, and this probably needs a thread of its own where dinosaurs such as I can rant freely, but the crimes done to our education system by my generation in the seventies were unforgivable.
The most useful thing I learned in school was the Multiplication Tables. There's never been a day in my life when I didn't use them. I hated "Pop" Corner for his regular mental arithmatic torture sessions, but I'm grateful for the results. (I'll never forgive him for all those thrashings though). Differential Calculus was quite useful too, but I don't use it much any more.
The second most useful thing I learned in school was that girls are much more interesting than boys.
Great snake story, well written. Obviously English was the second most useful thing you learned in School? Top marks. I have a snake story too. A student returned from the USA with a small American grass snake, to the wonderment of all. There being no snakes in Ireland. At lunchtime it went missing from the tank it was kept in. Mr McElwee the Biology teacher tut tutted the wantoness of whoever filched the thing and gave us the 'Young people nowdays' speech. Later during class, I was staring into space as usual when I suddenly saw a small movement in some beakers. There it was making good it's escape. I nudged my friend and pointed it out. He promptly told the teach and naturally got all the praise. What I learned was: Never let someone else steal your thunder. Snakes are sneaky creatures and 'young people nowdays' get a bum rap. Other than that I barely remember school. No funny incidents and no teacher that inspired me. Never enjoyed school.