kitchen table math, the sequel: memorization, knowledge, concepts

Friday, March 9, 2007

memorization, knowledge, concepts

Linda Moran has written an amazing post destined to become a Greatest Hit.

Which comes first, knowledge or concepts?

I'd been a star student in college, known as the student who "blew the curve." I was destined for greatness. But once in the real corporate world, something brewing since kindergarten now became an obvious gaping hole. I couldn't learn because I couldn't memorize.

A corporate environment is a chaotic one, run by a strange mix of schedules and crises. I'd suddenly become owner of a program that controlled printers--a program I had neither designed nor written myself. My first task was to debug the failure of the printers owned by Bowling Green State University. Their new printers were printing backwards. I was supposed to find out what was wrong, and fix that part of the program.

At school I learned that memorization has little place in logic and higher order thinking skills. Perhaps it's hard to believe there were such schools back in the sixties and seventies, but my district was ahead of its time and considered progressive. I learned I must always understand the concept, and that memorization is useless.

Now here I was with names and acronyms thrown at me. I didn't' know what a printer driver was, or what OEM meant, or heck, even where Bowling Green State University was, but there was no time to learn now. Those printers were printing critical documents backwards.

Everyone knew a little piece of the operating system, and they all told me whatever they knew. But it didn't hang together. I couldn't make sense of all the strange words. I panicked. I couldn't think of how to begin. I thought I had to understand everything first. I became anxious and depressed, and ended up in the corporate counselor's office.

Read on for the "dangling sky hooks" advice.



Instructivist said...

Linda also has a good post on Bloom's taxonomy. As a bonus you get to look at Bloom's circle.

As she points out, constructivists are so infatuated with so-called higher-order thinking that they disparage knowledge and comprehension:

"Constructivists marginalize and even vilify the lower order thinking skills, especially memorization."

She claims, though, that constructivism is a philosophy of teaching. I've heard it said that C. supposedly is a theory of knowing and not of teaching.

It sort of reminds me of the use of the political term "liberal". In the prestige media and in common parlance it is used as a euphemism for the far left. Then, invariably, someone will point out the wonderful attributes of "liberal".

Catherine Johnson said...

The word "liberal" has gotten wildly overrun with meaning...

I remember being shocked when I discovered that "liberal," in France, means "conservative" here -- and that the French definition of the term is historically and philosophically correct.

I made the same discovery reading an article about conservative law school professors (I think it was).

Harvard apparently had one conservative law professor, and he called himself a "19th century liberal" iirc.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've got an article on constructivism (I'll have to figure out which one it is) that says the term constructivism has branched out to mean a theory of knowledge, theory of learning, theory of teaching, and a whole bunch of other things, too.

Instructivist said...

"Harvard apparently had one conservative law professor, and he called himself a "19th century liberal" iirc."

I think some people still want to distinguish between being a "classical liberal" and the current corruption of the term. It's sad that a good word went to the dogs. You can still hear echoes of the classical meaning in archaic phrases like a liberal arts education.

I have a theory of how the term was corrupted. I think it has to do with the McCarthy era. After McCarthy, it became taboo to call a spade a spade, i.e. it became taboo to call a domestic Communist a Communist, a far leftist a far leftist or even a leftist. The prestige media then substituted "liberal" for Communist, left and far left. If you have knowledge of Communist and pro-Communist groups during the 60s, 70s and 80s and research, say, NYT articles, you'll find that to be the case.