With the advent of “there’s an app for that” thinking, there is a shift from knowing information pertaining to the problem and knowing how to use resources. Should we welcome this?
I’m going to argue that we should.
You see, the mere memorization of facts is outdated. While “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?” is an entertaining concept, it shows us something important: That many of the things we were taught when we were young became useless.
And who expected otherwise? You remembered the capitals of all 50 states not because it was cool information, but because if you failed the test, your parents would have been very angry. And truth be told, you didn’t care much for the test, because when you asked your teacher why you need to memorize them, all she could muster up was a glorified “because,” but only in a few more words.
No, you’ve been ready for this your whole life: The ability to have information at your fingertips at all hours of the day.
Education is the system of how we transmit the knowledge of our elders to the minds of our young. One of the goals of education is to “fill them in” on what’s been going on while they sat waiting in the womb. We have these cool things like “cars”, we tell them, that are able to transport us between these places we call “towns.” While they were forming, we say, certain things were happening on the globe like “wars” and “elections,” which work in this “way.” Our children are the late-to-the-party-people, the one’s who we have to fill in on the dramatic situation between Helen and her ex.
In addition to teaching them our history, we also try to prepare them for the world, a world where they will someday want to go off on their own and get something called a “job” where they support their “family,” with something called “money.” We let them know that they will need “skills” in order to perform these jobs. They will need “knowledge” to use each day in the job.
In the spirit of true exploration, though, we try not to persuade them into a certain direction too much, lest we ruin their chance of finding their true passion.
So we equip them. We try to force them to memorize the most relevant information we can think of. Like a child going out in the the cold, we aren’t sure what he’ll need, so we just load him up with everything. The long-sleeve shirt, the jacket, the big coat, the gloves, the boots, the hat, and maybe a spear, because by golly, the world is a dangerous place. Who cares if he resembles one of the Ewoks from Star Wars and people get frightened and try to kick him, he is going to be safe.
The truth is, though, that after he gets out the door, little honest Jimmy drops the get-up, takes only what he needs to be able to play with the other kids without being weighed down too much. All too often we forget that Jimmy isn’t some robot that needs to be programmed with certain information before leaving. He is a thinking, learning entity, one that has his own cares. What he does will be in relation to those cares.
All too often our education is conducted in this way, thus, wasting a lot of the energy that goes into teaching.
Info At Our Fingertips
The dawn of the internet brought many things, but one of the most important things it brought is the accessibility of information. The gap between the expert and the layman has increasingly vanished. More knowledge for the common man has made the market more competitive. An expert really needs to know his stuff.
Recent leaps in technology have made this information even more accessible. We now have smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets that we are able to carry around with us all day.
Google has even launched an app that can recognize a picture you take of something, and give you information about that object, making it possible to know all about something at the click of a button.
These devices are beginning to merge into our environment. Managers of important businesses keep their Blackberry’s handy at all times of the day.
We can get by with the memorization of a relatively small amount of facts. Some are scared that this trend is characteristic of a society moving towards idiocy, but is it really that bad?
Things Cared About Are Remembered
I remember in the 5th grade my teacher threatened to hold me back. I had not been doing any of my homework. Why? Because after a stint with a particular video game, I became extremely interested in ancient mythology. I would see the allusions to the mythological creatures and weapons in the game, which would cause me to look them up on the computer for hours, wanting to know all about them.
Guess what I remember more to this day? Those mythologies or my studies?
Like little Jimmy, I found the thing I cared about, and used all of my resources to find it. It is no controversial thing to say that our ability to use our resources is a good indicator of how successful we will be. So what should teachers focus on beyond the mere facts?
Focus on the resources the children are using to find answers to the things they care about? Are they using Google? Or Wikipedia? Or the link their friend posted on Facebook from some obscure website? The difference is important, the one between an answer that is deep and correct vs. one that is mere hearsay from some biased source.
Teach them to be critical of these resources. They must be able to reflect in a meaningful way whether or not the source is a legitimate one. This will make a difference when they begin searching for a topic that they know nothing of.
But how does a teacher get them to want to search for historical texts on the American Revolution? How does the teacher get them to start Googling “What is hydrogen?”
Get Them To Care
I became interested in ancient mythology, a topic that a lot of people would consider boring, knowledge that has no practical usage except maybe as an example for this article. I learned and memorized important things about it, not because I was forced to, but because I cared about the topic.
This is what our teachers should be expending most of their energy on. Why? Because the children they are teaching are not robots, merely taking in information. They are characters in their own story. They have cares. Who is talking about me, they think. When are we going to get to go outside and play, they say. And why do I have to study such boring things, they feel.
Get them to care about a topic and they will do the work for you. Steer them in the right direction and they will think that they came up with Plato’s Theory of Forms. Make knowledge useful and they will put it to good use.
They are ready. With a phone in one hand and a tablet in the other, they are willing to do the exploring if only you let them know what they are looking for and why they should be looking for it.
A Different Path To Memorization
When a student truly cares about something, they will seek out answers to their concerns. The answer they find will matter to them, they will have a stake in the outcome. As such, they will be more likely to memorize what they have found.
Mere fact memorization for its own sake is dead. We wish to make thinking students, and while thoughts require ammunition of fact based knowledge, thinking does not happen without a problem, a curiosity, or a concern.
The smartphone, if used in the right way, is an amazing tool. We just need to know how to use it in a meaningful way, and to know the most wholesome things to use it for.