From Memorization To Thinking

From Memorization To Thinking

Our education system continues to suffer as we rank somewhere between 17th and 20th globally.

This means that our economy will assuredly suffer in the future from the global competition that strangles us.

Some prominent experts in the field, like Walter Isaacson, say that innovation occurs at the intersection of arts and humanities meeting science and math–and I really like that.

Personally, this inspires me to think about whether education reform is perhaps focused too much on the teachers, tests, and core curriculum, and less on changing the way we are approaching education in the first place.

For as long as I can remember (i.e. even when I was in school way back when), we based our education on lots of memorization–multiplication tables, periodic tables, vocabulary, history, and much more.

For those with great short term memory, you could do very well to memorize, spit it out, and forget it, so you can start all over again with the next great wave of facts and figures.

The emphasis on memorization of basics, is important in getting a foundation of knowledge, but seems to me to come at the expense of critical thinking and problem solving skills.

From my own experience and watching my kids in school, I often see boredom at raw facts, and excitement and self-satisfaction at figuring something out.

Yet, too often students are asked to do rote memorization and test accordingly, rather than really think.

You can’t memorize innovation, but rather you need to be able to apply learning.

In this day and age, where facts are but a Google search away, memorization is less important and real analytical, reasoning, problem solving, and communication skills (all anchored in solid core values) are more relevant to our national and personal success.

Yet, have our school caught up with this?

Unfortunately, it seems most have not, and perhaps that is one reason that many of our preeminent innovators are dropouts–from Steve Jobs to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Ted Turner, etc.

Will we ever get away completely from memorizing the basics? Certainly not. Do we need to spend so much of K-12 education and even college years playing instant recall? What a waste!

The best experience that I remember from my younger daughter in school was her activities in the Ethics Bowl, where schools competed in analyzing ethically challenging situations and arguing the merits of the various sides. They learned to think and articulate their reasoning and conclusions and that is the best education that I can imagine.

Until we stop using education techniques from the dinosaur age–memorizing species and trying to recall where the eggs are buried, I fear we are doomed to subpar educational performance–in a boring, memorizing, and non-thinking way.

No wonder the kids want to develop the next great iPhone app and use their textbooks as a handy-dandy booster seat. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Lansing Public Library)

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