To borrow a phrase from one of my esteemed colleagues, and a concept that sounds like it came out of a round table conversation between 3 old friends, what if modern education focused more on the acquisition and application of information, and less on the memorization? Because of the Internet, students literally have the world’s knowledge base at their finger tips. Within seconds they can find the answer to any question that any teacher can ask them about, well, anything. The problem is that many pupils don’t know the difference between fact and fiction, or what to do with their answers.
So what if instead of focusing on the memorization of names, dates, locations, events, and even some concepts, teachers focused on the most effective ways to gather the most accurate information, and then, how to synthesize and apply this information to reach a conclusion? Of course it is important to know stuff, but what stuff is the most important to know? My father use to argue for the use of calculators. His point was that once the basic math was understood, that a calculator could speed up the math process allowing people access to high-order mathematical equations and algebraic concepts.
I have taught computer classes for 10 years. Most students come in with a working knowledge of how to use the computer and the internet, or so they think. Just because a kid can create a MySpace or Facebook account, does NOT mean they can properly take advantage of the Internet. We need to teach kids how to use the most powerful knowledge resource of all time. The problem is that many teachers don’t know how to use it themselves. We need to teach kids the different between fact and opinion, and what makes a web site an appropriate resource.
I am worried that today’s kids don’t know how to think. Yes, they know how to take tests well, and of course they can fill out packets of worksheets like champs, but how well do they think? How much time do you spend in your classroom on analysis, criticism, and critical thinking? How many classic novels do kids read in middle and high school that are followed up with valuable discussion? We all know it’s important for teachers to reflect, but do we teach reflection to our students and give them time and require them to complete the same exercise?
Our goal is to build better human beings. Perhaps we need to adjust the methods we use to build these beings. I’d like to say that I have memorized the names and years of service for each President of the United States and that I can rattle them off sequentially at will. But I can’t. However, I can find that information in .32 seconds on Google. If I had stayed in Mr. Carey’s AP US History course, then I could follow this up with a witty response to your essay prompt. Times have changed; the way we teach needs to change.