On July 12th, 2012, I published my first ever blog post on my now defunct ‘Webs of Substance’ blog site. It was called ’21st Century Knowledge’. The purpose of the post was to disagree with the following quote by Howard Gardner, a psychology professor, from an interview about his recently published book:
“…when the answers to factual questions are available at the movement of a mouse or the click of a button, there is no point in spending time committing the information to memory… going forward, our focus in schools… should be on understanding the METHODS whereby assertions are made, the way that a question is posed, how relevant data and arguments are marshaled, what kinds of challenges have been considered, how have they been responded to, etc.”
These were the views that were current in 2012. These are the views that are still current in the vast swathes of our education systems that have remained untouched by a motley assemblage of sceptical teachers having a social media moment.
The evidence comes in constantly, but one article that recently caught my eye dwells upon the effects of this kind of thinking. The article is based upon a survey of admissions staff at UK universities, around half of whom do not believe that students arrive at university sufficiently prepared. Digging into the reasons, the survey found, “The majority [of admissions officers] said that student were ‘unable to remember facts’ and had a “a ‘Google-it’ mentality”.”
I won’t use this post to explain why it is important for students to learn facts because I have written about that many times before. Indeed, E. D. Hirsch was writing about this issue and why you can’t rely on looking things up back in 2000. Instead, I just wish to emphasise that this is a real view about education that is out there and that seems to be having an impact on the education of youngsters.
Don’t let people tell you that this is all a false dichotomy and that everyone has always believed in the importance of learning knowledge. It was not true in 2012 and it is not true now.