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Why do I have to know this stuff?
Why do our children learn so much and yet know so little? – Part Two
We have previously argued that educators must play the role of both facilitating the learning process and filtering the acquired knowledge so that students not only learn but also know what they must remember. The expiration date of unfiltered knowledge will be determined by the date of the final test. The point made was that if students are asked to remember almost everything they learn, (an impossible task) they will respond by forgetting almost everything they learn. Clearly communicating to students which knowledge is of enduring value is the key to solving the ‘why our students know so little’ syndrome.
How does the educator choose?
I would urge teachers to use the ‘two year litmus test’. It’s fairly simple: Before asking students to memorize something, first ask yourself, do I realistically expect my students to remember these facts in two years time? And, is it truly important if they remember these facts in two years time? If the answer to any of the above is no, then don’t ask them now! (Of course, teachers may have other goals in mind when testing students, such as to see if they are paying attention, building study skills or simply checking for correct understanding of material presented. Such testing is of a different nature than testing for enduring knowledge.)
We must be cognizant of the fact that not all knowledge is created equal. Some facts are presented only for exposure purposes, while others are crucial to remember as they enable the future acquisition of worthwhile skills or help the student become a contributing member of society. For example, needing to remember the names of the American presidents may fall into the first category, while memorizing multiplication tables may fall into the second.
Many things we teach students fall somewhere in between the two examples noted. A teacher’s deep understanding of the difference between the above categories, and their ability to effectively communicate that difference to their students, is of critical importance if we are to end the learn it/ forget it cycle of lost knowledge.