Friday, October 11, 2013

Educational Shibboleths and Lack of Memorization Hurt Students

Repeat after Briana Timmerman: "Critical thinking skills good; memorization bad."

If that shibboleth reminds you of the mindless repetition of Animal Farm slogans, it should. It falls in the same category of nonsense.

That's the gist of her statement as Director of the SC Education Department's Office of Instructional Practices and Evaluations made this week to the state Board of Education. Several members objected to the "materialistic bias" of new state standards under consideration, but apparently no one objected to the following: "the new standards require students to develop higher order thinking skills and focus on problem-solving rather than memorization." It appears that even conservative members don't understand the effects of such a goal. After all, who can argue with "critical thinking"?

Timmerman herself is a victim of lack of factual knowledge, as her answer to one board member's question indicated. She did not know what "irreducible complexity" is as applied to biological systems. Her response was that ignorance doesn't matter because students will be asked to "evaluate the evidence."

That is just the point about the necessity for memorization. If the only "evidence" a student having no factual knowledge can use consists of what is in the textbook, the student (and society) is at the mercy of textbook writers. How will students "think outside the box" when they have no "furniture of the mind" (as I call it) to challenge accepted "truths"?  Maybe you would assume that Abraham Lincoln could have picked up the telephone and had a long-distance conversation with Grant during one of his battles. Maybe you might think that Grant was a Confederate general. I've known students who did.

Today's students are not expected to memorize too much information; the opposite is true. Ask any high school teacher trying to deal with their factual ignorance!

Here's a quote from Psychology Today that makes the point better than I can:
To return to the point of progressives that school is too hard, I have examined state science standards in great detail because I write middle-school science curriculum. The standards do not demand too much memorization. They don't demand enough, especially the kind of memorization where students have to know how to use knowledge in their thinking. 
I think that the low-level of memorization required of students today is a main reason why so many students have under-developed thinking skills. Too many of them mouth platitudes and parrot what others have said. They can't think on their own because they don't know enough to generate original and rigorous thought. Yet, too many educators dismiss the importance of memorization, assuming falsely that kids can think with an empty head. Educators tried that a few years back with "new math," which failed miserably. Now, it appears the same ill-begotten beliefs are re-surfacing in the context of state standards and accountability testing.
                                              --Author and Professor William R. Klemm, Texas A & M

Briana Timmerman needs to do a little critical thinking of her own!

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