Memorization of facts not everything to education

So Americans aren’t walking textbooks, according to a recent study.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute recently questioned Americans about their knowledge of America’s founding principles, political history, international relations and market economy. Those surveyed received an average grade of 44 percent, and more than 1,700 people failed the test. The institute supports a traditional curriculum for students.

But as political science professor Jim Riddlesperger notes, questioning people solely about academic facts underestimates people’s values in their communities.

“Academic learning is important, but it is only one kind of learning,” he said.

At TCU, like many other universities around the country, students are put in situations to practically use the knowledge they use in class, rather than regurgitating facts from a textbook to a scantron sheet. For example, political science students are working on policy projects to improve Fort Worth Independent School District’s dropout rate, help the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition and help TCU become more eco-friendly, said Karen Anisman, an associate with the TCU Center for Civic Literacy.

As some schools have changed their curriculums from a traditional education to those favoring practical experience such as internships and other methods of hands-on learning, fewer students will have memorized the facts and tidbits found in their textbooks. But does that mean students are less prepared?

“I would be ecstatic if students could recite the Constitution, but I can’t even recite the Constitution,” history professor Claire Sanders said. “Knowledge is only good if it does something for you – memorization is memorization. As far as civic literacy goes, it is important for students to understand the vital role we play as citizens in self governance.”

Understanding concepts, rather than memorizing facts, are what prepare students to deal with real-world problems they will face out of school. While understanding how the world has arrived at its present state is important, it’s ever more crucial that students have their minds wrapped around the why rather than the what.

After all, that’s what books are for.

Managing editor Joe Zigtema for the editorial board.