The Anti-memorization Trend in Education
Have you heard this argument? It sounds something like this:
Kids will have the Internet in their pocket at all times the rest of their lives. If your student can Google the answer to a question, then you’re a bad teacher when you ask your kids to memorize this “Google-able” information or test them on it. Only test questions that CAN’T be Googled are worthwhile.
Mark Dawe, the OCR exam board chief executive, supported the idea of students using Google on their exams. He said this:
“Surely when they [students taking the exam] learn in the classroom, everyone uses Google if there is a question. It is more about understanding what results you’re seeing rather than keeping all of that knowledge in your head because that’s not how the modern world works.”
I fully understand the concern. When I went through school (in the 70’s and 80’s), teachers would throw a bunch of information at us, ask us to read some material in the textbook, and then test us on seemingly meaningless facts…and normally using a multiple guess style exam.
I also am a big fan of using technology with kids. I want my students to be skilled at research. I want them to be able to sift through searches on the Internet and choose reliable sources. I want my students to be computer literate. These are absolutely essential in the 21st century classroom.
BUT, I totally disagree with the “If you can Google it…” trend in education. I want my students to memorize things. I want them to know a ton of facts! I test my students on “Google-able” information all the time, and no, they aren’t allowed to use technology to find the answers.
My friend John Eick and I agreed to independently record our thoughts on this topic. Please take a few minutes to listen to John’s Podcast (player below), “Learning with John Eick,” where he discusses his views on the anti-memorization trend in education. Leave comments for each of us, won’t you?
Fluid Work Flow If we humans have to Google everything, we can’t fluidly move through complex problems because we’re too busy searching for basic answers. Let’s say I have an issue getting my video editing software to work. I pull up a help website for FinalCut. I begin reading and realize that I don’t understand several terms on the website. What is a “transition?” I Google the word “transition.” A few minutes later, I think I’ve got it. Oh great, what does “jump cut” mean? I Google it. You get the picture. It would take me forever to get through complex problems if I had to Google all the prerequisite knowledge.
Sounding Uneducated Have you ever met someone who doesn’t have basic knowledge on historical facts, names of states or countries, scientific facts, etc. Not very impressive. An American adult who doesn’t know that George Washington was the first president of the United States? Where is New York? Wait, let me Google it. Why doesn’t this lamp work? Hang on while I Google it. OH! I need to plug it into this wall hole thing. It’s not a wall hole thing; it’s called an electrical socket. Google it. Hey, anyone want to go dinosaur hunting after work? Again, you get the idea.
Mind Development I’m no brain research expert, but from what I know, memorization is good for the brain. When we exercise our brains, they develop and become more powerful. Sometimes, just the process, the act of memorizing is plain old good for us.
So the question to me is not, “Do we expect students to memorize things they can Google?” The real discussion should focus on, “What Google-able facts should we ask our students to memorize?”
Should our schools revert to the methods of 30 years ago, before the age of the Internet? Of course not. Should school be a place where kids solely memorize a bunch of random facts and then regurgitate them on tests? No way!
What types of things do I want my 5th graders to memorize?
- Morphemes The more letter group meanings my students memorize, the easier they will be able to solve unknown words.
- Math Facts and Formulas I want my students to commit 8 x 7 to memory. I don’t time my students on math facts, but I do want them to have the ability to answer math facts without having to Google them or spend 30 seconds figuring them out. How do we find the area of a rectangle? Hopefully my students have worked with the concept enough to truly understand the concept, but in the end, they need to know its length times width.
- Important Historical Facts When was World War II? Who was the evil leader responsible for killing millions of innocent people during this period of history? Why is the date July 4, 1776 significant? Who did America defeat in the American Revolution?
- Spelling I want my students to know how to spell most words that they use frequently. It’s perfectly normal to not know the spelling for a handful of words that we commonly use. But if someone has to Google the spelling of every-other word they write? Awful! Laborious. Uneducated.
- Vocabulary Do we really want our students reading a book and Googling every tenth word? Is it ok if my kids don’t know the meaning of a quadrilateral by heart? Nope. How ridiculous would it be to have to pause a conversation or TV show every 30 seconds to Google the meaning of a word?
- Scientific Facts What’s the difference between a hurricane and a tornado? What is sodium chloride? Why do you look like your parents?
So if all the above facts are easily Googled, what is the point of school? Shouldn’t we just let kids sit at home and teach themselves? If kids know that they have any sort of lesson readily available on YouTube and other Internet sources, is there a point in sending kids to school for 5 hours a day?
The answer to this thick question is an aside to the focus of this post, but in short, school must be more than a place to learn facts. A good teacher acts as a mentor, a guide, and designs learning experiences that are far more powerful than watching a video on YouTube. The best learning environments are those where rich two-way communication is common, both teacher-student and student-student. This is possible, but not common, in Internet educational situations.
Here’s another blog post arguing a similar stance.