Memorize to think critically. . .

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Daisy Christodoulou, the author of Seven Myths About Education has penned a forceful argument to restore the teaching of facts and knowledge as a principal aim of K-12 education.

She details the myth that teaching facts prevents understanding -- finding expressions of this idea in the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and Charles Dickens -- each author setting up "...polar opposites between facts, which are generally seen as bad, and something else, which is generally seen as good." She notes that the metaphors of lower- and higher-order thinking skills in Bloom's taxonomy, familiar to many educators, suggest two incorrect conclusions: "...that the skills are somehow separate from knowledge...and that knowledge is somehow less worthy and important."

She continues, marshaling research from the last half century into human cognition (there are many citations to review for the curious educator!):

Rather than characterizing fact learning as passive surface learning, and active skill practice as deep learning, we should understand that knowledge and skills are intertwined, and that skill progression depends upon knowledge accumulation.

Perhaps the most fundamental, practical example of how this works is learning the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make. The letters of the alphabet are, in a sense, completely arbitrary. There is no good reason why the squiggle "a" should form the vowel sound that we all associate it with. Yet we accept that pupils have to learn the relationship between these arbitrary squiggles and sounds as a precursor to being able to make meaning from them. Learning such facts does not preclude meaning: it allows meaning. As the pupils commit these facts to memory, they are expanding their long-term memories, improving their ability to communicate, and developing a more sophisticated mental apparatus.