I remember the indignation. I was a grade 8 student studying for a science test. I announced with all the wisdom and conviction of a 13-year-old that it was ridiculous studying all this science. “It’s not like I’m going to be a scientist!”
No doubt I would have joined the chorus today that also argues against learning and memorizing facts. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t read or hear the argument that students don’t need to know things like they used to. Anything one needs to know can be found on the internet.
A number of reasons why this notion is incorrect quickly come to mind: students need information as fodder for critical and creative thinking; people don’t always have the internet when they need it; you can’t simultaneously Google everything you need to know to think about a complex issue; much information we learn contributes to our sense of community and identity.
Reading Kathie Nunley’s book A Student’s Brain: The Parent/Teacher Manual, I can now add another definitive reason for why this notion needs knocking. Pure and simple, having to learn anything, anything, makes your brain stronger. The more the brain takes in, the more neural pathways become established. The more those pathways are repeatedly used, the more permanent those pathways become. The more numerous, varied and permanent those pathways are, the more ways in which the brain is ready to learn everything else it’s subsequently exposed to. Much like a muscle that grows whether you’re lifting barbells or babies, the brain is a use-it-or-lose-it organ. If you want to be good at anything in life, learn everything you can.
Along the way, you might even learn what I learned when applying to university. My undergraduate, as it turned out, was in science.
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.
This article was first published in SNAP Etobicoke, June 2013.