What Students Know Matters (Still)

We have long championed the notion that because information is essentially free, it matters less what a students knows in terms of facts and concepts and more how adept they are at certain skills (or habits of mind and heart). This thinking follows from the premise that schools and teachers were once sources of information which they poured into students. Those students who learned the most received the highest grades, and so educational outcome was really about assessing how much one had learned. With the Internet, information acquisition becomes cheap and easy (think just-in-time) and what value schools provide must now focus on skills or what one does with that information.

Jonathan Haidt’s article, “The dark psychology of social networks,” in The Atlantic (December 2019) says, in effect, to not be so quick to discard the value of information, particular the ideas that have survived the filtration test of time.

“Our cultural ancestors were probably no wiser than us, on average, but the ideas we inherit from them have undergone a filtration process. We mostly learn of ideas that a succession of generations thought were worth passing on. That doesn’t mean these ideas are always right, but it does mean that they are more likely to be valuable, in the long run, than most content generated within the past month. Even though they have unprecedented access to all that has ever been written and digitized, members of Gen Z (those born after 1995 or so) may find themselves less familiar with the accumulated wisdom of humanity than any recent generation, and therefore more prone to embrace ideas that bring social prestige within their immediate network yet are ultimately misguided.” [Emphasis mine.]

Without wanting to restart the canon wars, maybe we should revisit the role education plays in cultivating wisdom and discernment in addition to skills. After all, the very skilled pilot flying the plane on which I am traveling while writing this will see those skills rendered pointless if she is not able remember basic physical science or discriminate accurate from faulty instruments readings.

Business and leadership, Governance, Headship, Strategy  |  permalink

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