I'm not teaching calculus right now, but I talk to someone who does, and the question that came up is why emphasize the $h \to 0$ definition of a derivative to calculus students?
Something a teacher might do is ask students to calculate the derivative of a function like $3x^2$ using this definition on an exam, but it makes me wonder what the point of doing something like that is. Once one sees the definition and learns the basic rules, you can basically calculate the derivative of a lot of reasonable functions quickly. I tried to turn that around and ask myself if there are good examples of a function (that calculus students would understand) where there isn't already a well-established rule for taking the derivative. The best I could come up with is a piecewise defined function, but that's no good at all.
More practically, this question came up because when trying to get students to do this, they seemed rather impatient (and maybe angry?) at why they couldn't use the "shortcut" (that they learned from friends or whatever).
So here's an actual question:
What benefit is there in emphasizing (or even introducing) to calculus students the $h \to 0$ definition of a derivative (presuming there is a better way to do this?) and secondly, does anyone out there actually use this definition to calculate a derivative that couldn't be obtained by a known symbolic rule? I'd prefer a function whose definition could be understood by a student studying first-year calculus.
I'm not trying to say that this is bad (or good), I just couldn't come up with any good reasons one way or the other myself.
EDIT: I appreciate all of the responses, but I think my question as posed is too vague. I was worried about being too specific, so let me just tell you the context and apologize for misleading the discussion. This is about teaching first-semester calculus to students straight out of high school in the US, most of whom have already taken a calculus course in high school (and didn't do well or retake it for whatever reason). These are mostly students who have no interest in mathematics (the cause for this is a different discussion I guess) and usually are only taking calculus to fulfill some university requirement. So their view of the instructor trying to get them to learn how to calculate derivatives from the definition on an assignment or on an exam is that they are just making them learn some long, arbitrary way of something that they already have better tools for.
I apologize but I don't really accept the answer of "we teach the limit definition because we need a definition and that's how we do mathematics". I know I am being unfair in my paraphrasing, and I am NOT trying to say that we should not teach definitions. I was trying to understand how one answers the students' common question: "Why can't we just do this the easy way?" (and this was an overwhelming response on a recent mini-evaluation given to them). I like the answer of $\exp(-1/x^2)$ for the purpose of this question though.
It's hard to get students to take you seriously when they think that you're only interested in making them jump through hoops. As a more extreme example, I recall that as an undergraduate, some of my friends who took first year calculus (depending on the instructor) were given an oral exam at the end of the semester in which they would have to give a proof of one of 10 preselected theorems from the class. This seemed completely pointless to me and would only further isolate students from being interested in math, so why are things like this done?
Anyway, sorry for wasting a lot of your time with my poorly-phrased question. I know MathOverflow is not a place for discussions, and I don't want this to degenerate into one, so sorry again and I'll accept an answer (though there were many good ones addressing different points).