London-based writer Leslie (Born Liars: Why We Can't Live Without Deceit, 2011) takes issue with current trends in education, debunking the idea that in the computer age, it is unnecessary and counterproductive for schools to teach facts.
“The argument that schools ought to prioritize learning skills over knowledge makes no sense; the very foundation for such skills is memorized knowledge. The more we know, the better we are at thinking,” writes the author, who warns that educators today are in danger of misunderstanding the basis for creativity. Elaborating on a suggestion made by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Leslie explains how long-term memory sharpens our intuitive grasp of a problem. “Unfettered curiosity is wonderful; unchanneled curiosity is not,” he writes. Children require direction about what they need to learn; even if they find classroom assignments boring, the lessons they learn may prove to be invaluable in the future. The ease of finding quick answers using search engines and Wikipedia can short-circuit serious investigation if ready access to the Internet is treated as a substitute for traditional, fact-based learning rather than an enhancement. The Internet, writes Leslie, “presents us with more opportunities to learn than ever before and also allows us not to bother.” We are the beneficiaries of “the Enlightenment's great cascade of curiosity,” which laid the basis for modern society, but today we are in danger of being swamped by “an abundance, rather than a scarcity, of information.” The author concludes with a challenge: “Isaac Newton…felt he was standing on the shoulders of giants. From our own heady vantage point, we can take in a view of breathtaking majesty, a better one than was available to Newton….” It is up to us whether we, as individuals, parents and educators, “take advantage of [our] sublimely lucky break.”
A searching examination of information technology's impact on the innovative potential of our culture.