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Does Modern Education Discourage the Retention of Knowledge?

by Bruce Price, published
There is much clatter in education about the four Cs: creativity, cooperation, communication, and critical thinking. The idea seems to be: let’s toss out the old-fashioned stuff (like math, history, science, geography, literature, etc.) and replace all of that with so-called competencies or soft skills, such as cooperation.

The National Education Association features an article titled: “An Educator’s Guide to the “Four Cs -- Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global Society.” Traditional education, we are told, failed because there wasn’t enough concern with creativity, cooperation, communication and critical thinking. The NEA claims: “What was considered a good education 50 years no longer enough for success in college, career, and citizenship in the 21st century.”

Did moving from one century to another change the nature of the world? The NEA wants you to think so. And with that empty claim, they want people to reject “what was considered a good education 50 years ago.” Specifically, they want everyone to stop doing what smart schools always did, which is to stress basic skills and the acquisition of knowledge.

Many people have heard the phrase, “the deliberate dumbing down of America.” This is how they do it, right in front of our eyes. Serve up a wisp of sophistry about the 21st century, state that students should not bother with traditional skills and hard knowledge, and instead schools should spend their time teaching the new competencies. Presto, out with what has always worked, in with yet another destructive fad.

First thing to note: many experts say we can’t even teach the Four C’s in any real sense. What schools traditionally did, for thousands of years, was to teach foundational knowledge. In learning and evaluating a variety of facts, children pick up soft skills such as critical thinking and creativity. So, what happens if you don’t teach foundational knowledge? Nothing happens. That is the problem. The pump is not primed.

Today, a fifth C is swamping all the others. That would be a "Culture of Ignorance." Once upon a time, the whole point of putting kids in school was to fill their heads with new information. Today, that is actively discouraged. Memorization, always called “rote,” is demonized as “teaching to the test” or “drill and kill.”

The goal of acquiring knowledge is casually scorned. Children are not tested on knowing anything in particular. Everything is soft: soft knowledge, soft skills, soft testing. So even when a teacher is actually teaching knowledge, there is no feeling in the air that students should be retaining the information. That option is what we are losing. Schools used to be infused with a culture of learning. Now there is a culture of not-bothering-to-learn.

The acquisition of knowledge, that’s what the NEA is trying to make obsolete. The people in charge of the schools have a glittering array of alibis and excuses. There is always some clever reason why children don’t need to learn something.

An ex-teacher, who calls himself “Altruist,” left these faddish opinions on a forum:

“Today the amount of knowledge available has grown exponentially...So who determines what stuff the kids have to learn? The best person to determine what information to learn is the individual that has to learn it, but most kids don't know what they will need till they need it...All of the information in the universe can be found on line. So instead of memorizing it all, why not just teach kids how to find it and access it, so when they are interested in a subject the kids can learn it then...Memorization and the accumulation of knowledge is the least demanding of cognitive skills. Why not spend the few hours we have them teaching them how to use the information out there and how to process it “

If you’re impressed by any of this, please read it over and over until you see how sophistical it is. You’re supposed to wait until you know you need something and then look it up or learn it? So you’ll be 40-years-old learning how to multiply numbers or who George Washington is? All the information is online so you don’t need to memorize it? Fifty years ago, all the “information in the universe” was in encyclopedias and libraries. Did it ever occur to anybody to argue that therefore you don’t need to know any of it?

The main thing to note here is that no matter what argument is presented, it always ends up favoring ignorance. Our education establishment has become a one-trick pony.

Public schools are overrun by a culture of ignorance. The situation seems to be getting worse. We’re moving toward the point where children will not be expected to know there are 12 inches in a foot or 24 hours in a day. It would be so unfair if some children knew these facts and some did not.

The education establishment says ignorance is bliss. Our ignorance is bliss for them because they want to be in control. That was the essence of George Orwell’s famous slogan “Ignorance is Strength.

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