Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Importance of Knowing

Over the past few years, I have heard this argument in various places: "Our modern world does not require the learning of content, because students can just look it up".

This is akin to a 19th century teacher deciding that they no longer need to focus on teaching knowledge in schools because students can just look up everything they need in the school library. It is perhaps the silliest thing I have ever heard. We live in a world that is rich with information. In order to sift through this information, our minds require a better understanding of content than ever before. Yes, we must develop different skills in our students, but failing to teach students knowledge will mean that they fail to draw connections as they navigate the internet. Knowledge is more important than it has ever been before.

All learning is metaphorical. We compare new ideas to previous ideas, and this comparison forms the basis of our understanding. For example, the first person most of us meet is our mother. We identify that she is "other". Next, most of us meet our father. We understand that he is also "other" but is somehow different from our mother. Perhaps it is his beard. Maybe it is his voice. Regardless, our concept of father will be understood based upon a comparison with our mother.

This ability to compare is the basis of all judgement. We judge the value of a product based on previous products. We compare a new friend to an old friend. We compare ideas we learn in science class to previous ideas we learned in science class. When we read a story in Language Arts class, it provides us with the context to understand real-world situations when they happen to us.

If we do not provide our students with a solid foundation of knowledge (in their heads - not on the internet) then they have no basis for comparison. New ideas will float in a mind devoid of context. In the information age, knowledge is more important than it has ever been before.