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.)