Regurgitation (or The American System of Education)
Luke at Sonlight Blog had a great post entitled Questions with Answers are Easy, postulating that understanding is more important than regurgitating.
My comment got so long and it’s about something that’s close to my heart, so I thought I’d… cheat a little, and just copy and paste my comment, and have it be my whole post for the day!! (I did add a bit…)
To Luke, I wrote:
I’m (mostly) with you [on the importance of real learning vs. parroting responses]. I really enjoy reading history and even science with my children, and pointing out things like author bias when the semantics are steering us one way or another. I love discussions about this sort of thing.
We had one this morning, in fact, revisiting the Lusitania. I saw a Military Channel documentary on it, and contrary to the Usborne World Wars book, it inferred that evidence shows that Churchill, who was part of the Admiralty, perhaps ordered the Lusitania to stay on course, even knowing that a German U-boat was in its way. The thinking was that, if Britain sacrificed the Lusitania, perhaps it would compel the Americans to engage in WWI.
Heady stuff. Troubling stuff, actually, for 11 and 13yos.
But, my point was that, in history, oftentimes, it’s difficult to tell who was right and who was wrong. And that the “right” sides can make the wrong decisions. And do the ends justify the means? And what about unintended consequences???
Not that I’m saying the Germans were right in WWI. It’s just that even the “good guys” can make life-altering, history-altering decisions, and investigating them can leave one queasy at times.
I GREATLY want my children to be able to think, not just regurgitate. I think the biggest failing of the American education system right now is that it is spitting out millions of children who only know how to regurgitate, and I might even be so brash to think that the generation of homeschooled American children may save the future generations of their publicly schooled compatriots. Or, at least lead them.*
However, there are other things at which I draw the line, and say, “You need to remember this term.” For instance, my 9yo, Wesley, does really well in grammar — understanding grammar. But, he has trouble with the terms. He will forever ask me, “What is an imperative?” or, “What does compound mean?” (He knows what an object of the preposition is, or what the direct object of a verb is… and can even find more than one of them. But the fact that more than one makes it compound, he can’t remember.) Now, it might be that he only encounters such questions on a standardized test. But, is it important that he remembers it? I think it is.
Sometimes, etymology and semantics are what make conversation and communication with others possible. Standards of education are important, at least to an extent. It’s great that Wesley understands grammar. But if he can’t explain it to others, can’t explain what it is he knows, that can send him astray in a multitude of directions (not speaking just of grammar here).
*I realize that this is inflammatory. However, I truly believe, both for better and for worse, that homeschooled children are more likely to be the sort who go against the status quo. The best and most effective leaders are the ones who are able to communicate something new, and/or to see old information in a new light, and/or to think and speak things that go against the flow of current culture. American schools do not encourage this sort of inventiveness. American schools encourage assimilation, cooperation at all costs, not rocking the boat, “fitting in”, homogenization. The product of American schools are largely akin to fish sticks, whilst most homeschooled children are wild-caught salmon. Both end up on someone’s plate, but fish sticks are a pale approximation of what is genuine. At its best, homeschooling produces GENUINE education: LEARNING, not just memorizing. THINKING, not just remembering. ANALYZING, not just synthesizing. Stimulating DISCUSSION, not just being lectured at. Etc.