Let Us Now Praise Knowing Stuff

A reporter asked me, "Would you prefer that students know information, or how to find information?"

Clearly she thought that knowing where to find information was best.  Actually knowing facts was, in her mind, not important.  That was the old way, the medieval approach, when children were whipped to make them memorize the state capitals and other such irrelevant stuff.

Thank goodness, she clearly believed, we have moved on to more civilized ways.  Children no longer know anything.  All they know is that they must go somewhere to find what they want to know.

But why would the reporter believe that this tactic is superior?  After all, if you don't have the information in your mind, it's not all that convenient.  You might be at a bar watching the news on television.  There are reports of a big explosion in X.  But you don't know what X is, so you don't know whether the explosion is 3,000 miles away or 30.

This reporter had completely embraced the latest dogma from the Education Establishment.  This group's perennial pattern is concocting alibis for ignorance.  Humans are not supposed to know very much.  This gospel is promoted at the finest schools of education.

What is the basis for this reasoning?  The internet is here!  Google can find anything!  Technology has transformed education!  Once upon a time, people needed to know stuff.  Now, that would be a waste of time.  All that people need to know is techniques for finding stuff.

Anyone who has actually looked for something on the internet can testify that this can be a complicated task.  The information is out there somewhere -- billions and billions of pieces of information.  But you don't need all that information.  You just need particular bits and pieces.  But to find them, you need to ask the right questions, and enter the perfect search words.

Many times, the pathway to what you seek is muddled and elusive.  Finding what you need to know often depends on knowing a lot of things to start with.

Indeed, it's when you examine what, if anything, has actually changed that you fully appreciate the shabbiness of the current fad.  The Education Establishment wants to say that life is fundamentally different because of the internet.  (In fact, they were making similar claims before the internet, but now they have an extra-handy excuse.)

Let's imagine that you live in a town not yet connected to the internet.  If you want information, you walk to a library.  All the information you might want is right there, more or less at your fingertips.  Was that ever considered a justification for not learning basic information?  Of course not.

Or let's say you're confined to a house with no internet.  All you have is a World Book Encyclopedia.  This contains 100 times as much information as any ordinary person could ever master.  All the facts are there.  Was this ever considered a reason not to learn any information on your own?  Of course not.

In fact, when the only resource you had was an encyclopedia, life was actually easier.  You could open to the most likely word, and read answers.

Now, with the internet, you may have to deal with dozens or hundreds of pages.  You may have to sort through a lot of miscellaneous, useless information before you zero in on the thing you want to know.  If you don't know anything to start with, you won't know how to process the surfeit of information you must fight through.

I grew up with an encyclopedia.  It was vast and unmanageable in my eyes.  But as I learned more at school, and had more and more information in my brain, I became a more intelligent user of encyclopedias.  That's how education works.

I knew when I rifled through the pages that some information was mainstream and essential.  I also knew that other articles were about long-ago kings and obscure countries about which I did not need to know at the moment.

An ignorant person does not have any sense of priorities or hierarchy.  The high and mighty mix with the low and insignificant.  It's a big, meaningless stew.

You have to know some facts in order to learn more facts.  That is the basic law of life that our ne'er-do-well Education Establishment would like to ignore.

The internet hasn't changed anything.  The educated person will still be far ahead of the uneducated person, whether he's dealing with a library, an encyclopedia, the internet, or news on television.

Knowledge is still power, and ignorance is hell.  The public schools are run by people who claim to believe that letting children remain ignorant is smart education policy.  Who could believe such nonsense?

An extensive matrix of education fads emphasizes looking for knowledge, discussing knowledge, but not necessarily acquiring knowledge, and certainly not in a systematic way.  Here are some of the big concepts: Discovery Method (aka Constructivism); Project-Based Learning; Contempt For Knowledge; Cooperative Learning; Creativity.

The basic idea nowadays is that kids should be kept busy doing things that sound sophisticated.  Whether they know where Panama is on a map or who Thomas Jefferson was...well, that's hardly important.  There's the malpractice we need to defeat.

Circa 1950, top educators blatantly pooh-poohed the quest for knowledge.  Not important, we were told.  But ordinary people kept insisting that no, citizens should know stuff.  So the Education Establishment got more subtle, more sly.  Bells and whistles were provided.  Now it's possible to keep ordinary children in school for 13 years (busy, busy, busy), and, at the end, when they graduate, the kids have a sixth-grade education.

Bruce Deitrick Price deconstructs theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org.

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