View #1: further thoughts

View #1 of knowledge/learning is that it’s made up of a set of discrete facts that it’s the student’s duty to learn and the teacher’s duty to teach.

One of the problems, as stated in this morning’s post, is that this kind of teaching/learning relies heavily on taxon memory. There’s nothing wrong with taxon learning at all. It’s durable, reliable, and long-lasting, once you get it into your brain.

That’s the problem, though, because it’s very, very hard to get that kind of information into the brain. Our brain perceives bits of taxon information as irrelevant to its purposes, and resists the memorization. As my son so famously said about the multiplication tables, “When will I ever use that?” So learning in that manner requires a great deal of concentration and repetition to engrave that information into the synapses.

The benefits are that if you truly learn something this way, it’s yours forever. The multiplication tables is a great example of this. State capitals, the Presidents in order, and the Pledge of Allegiance are others.

The downside is that not only does the brain resist learning this way, it requires external motivation to do so. And external motivation eventually depresses the brain’s intrinsic desire to learn. I think most of us can give plenty of examples of how, starting in third grade and certainly by fifth grade, the natural curiosity of the first grader is almost completely gone, as far as our curriculum is concerned.

So why have we relied so much on this kind of learning in the past? Hint: it’s easy to test. And because it’s easy to test, it produces numbers that look oh-so-objective, and where would our policy makers be without objective accountability? But the long-term outlook for people who are required to learn mainly through the use of taxon memory is that they don’t end up with brains that look on the world as a set of ever-changing patterns that need to be recognized and dealt with.

Quick: how many kingdoms of living things are there? Can you name them? Are you sure they haven’t changed since last week?

See the problem with an overreliance on View #1? You can’t regard knowledge as a set of discrete facts that are set in stone, eternal truths if you will, because facts change and then you’re stuck with the wrong information in your head.

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