The fact is…

Free the Facts

Facts are getting a bad rap.  More accurately, the practice of memorizing them is.  I just did a Google search with the phrase “Why memorize facts when” and got eight hits.  Tried the same phrase on Bing and got 11.  Tried “Memorizing facts is important because” and got zip, nada, no hits with either engine.

In conversations about upgrading education for the 21st century, knowing facts—and the factual knowledge they yield—gets lip service at best.  The b-word almost always comes into play.

  • “Factual knowledge is important, but as we have seen, the really important facts change.”
  • “Facts are important, but what is more important is what they mean.”
  • “Certainly factual knowledge is important, but it has limited meaning or persistence without unifying contexts.”

It’s not that I disagree with such pronouncements; I think they are valid.  I take issue with what they imply and how so many people now interpret them—that is, why bother memorizing facts when you can look them up in nanoseconds on Google?

Why bother?  Think about it.  If you can.  You can’t think about something unless you have something to think about.  You can’t debate the facts or determine their significance until you know what they are.   Want to be recognized as an expert?  Current cognitive science says you’ll have to acquire a “great deal  of content knowledge” and retrieve it “with little attentional effort.”  Sounds like memorization of facts to me.

So let’s give facts their due.  Without ’em, we know naught.  (Don’t know naught?  Google it.)

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1 Comment

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One response to “The fact is…

  1. Jason

    Wow! Great thought-provoking post. I’m not going to memorize it though! 🙂 I do know that memorization has taken a smaller role in our society. Do you memorize phone numbers anymore or just add them to your ephonebook? Do you memorize addresses or just enter them in your GPS? What about birthdays? I have an app. for that! You do say “You can’t debate the facts or determine their significance until you know what they are.” I think we need to look at the fundamental definition of memorization…we all learn to memorize in school, which as Bloom says, as well as many other cognitive scientists, is a lower-order thinking skill. In other words, we can memorize facts, but not fully understand the significance of that fact and how it applies to us and the world. Obviously debating a memorized fact may be quite difficult without a better understanding of it. So I do think memorization is overrated. Why should we have to perform such lower order thinking skills when we now have tools such as Google to help us? If we start to show students how insignificant memorizing really is maybe they will then put focus on deeper learning and not just cramming the information right before a test like we all have done several times. I memorized several facts from schooling, but do I really know the background and application to those facts?? Yes I know the Pythagorean theorem -A^2 + b^2 = C ^2 , but do I really understand how this was derived and how it can be used in architecture? No.

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