Saturday, September 22, 2007

Memorisation supplanting thinking


our society seems to be awash in
magazines, books and tv-shows on
how to do things - typically 'lifestyle' topics
like renovating or art-and-craft

that in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing
but it does seem bad that the focus so much on
supposedly-useful 'tips',
which are usually pretty lightweight facts

I think that has a tendency to create
the wrong sort of attitude or approach in the 'learner'
it becomes a game of fact memorising
and then approaching a situation
by trying to recall which facts are appropriate to it

whereas you should really want to have
an /understanding/ of the situation
that is relevant as a starting point
and /think on your feet/ as you are within the situation.

the problem is
fact memorsation supplants thinking


  1. I am not sure I agree with you there. Fact memorisation is important and aids in our understanding. This airy-fairy idea of 'understanding' without fact memorisation has wrecked havoc in the school system, where it was assumed that students would magically be able to understand and solve maths problems without needing to memorise multiplication tables. Indeed, I think we understand better when we apply facts we have learnt to solve the problem at hand, thus getting insight into the situation and problem that ultimately leads to a solution and in the broadening of our knowledge.

  2. hi tinni,

    Just to be clear, I was criticising those 'lifestyle'-sorts of magazines, books and tv-shows... though I do see that there are broader issues here...

    Those people in the school system might use a rhetoric of it being about 'understanding', but what they're doing is based on a misunderstanding of what it requires to understand something.

    It does require facts, but facts alone don't get you very far, and I think effective learning requires application and trying to weave together the details into a larger-scale understanding -- as you say.

    The sort of 'understanding' I was talking about in that post is when you have taken in a bunch of details and you understand why they are so, and you can make choices on the basis of that understanding. I wanted to contrast this on when you have a bunch of facts and you are more following instructions than doing things based on understanding.


  3. Yet following instructions is not necessarily a mindless task. Especially when you are doing it for the first time. I mean, in grade 6 (this is in bangladesh) I had to knit woolen soaks for home economics. This involved following instructions from the home economics book. The first time I did it well... they were not very good. Let's just say following instructions is not as easy as it seems when you are also trying to learn how to knit in the first place (that was the first time I ever knittted). However, the second time I knitted, following the same instructions the results were much, much better. Further more, following these two knitting exercises and no other knitting practice I had to sit an exam (yes in bangladesh you get examined on your knitting) where I had to knit a baby sock (not a pair thankfully) without the instruction AND with certain adjustments to the size and shape of the sock in order for us to able to complete the task in the time allocated. I was only able to complete the task because I gained an understanding through following instructions.

    So I guess what I am getting at it is that while I agree that memorising the instructions given by these life style programs won't suddenly make you a better cook, carpentar etc, etc. But in applying the memorised instructions does give you an understanding of the process involved in cooking a meal or knitting something, if only because, unlike following an instruction on how to run a computer program, cooking a meal or knitting a sock involve excercian in a way that ensures it's not a robotic thing. At least that's what I think.