Knowing the Facts

“Strong teachers don’t teach content; Google has content.”

This quote, like many blanket statements about education that make the rounds on Twitter, is ideological and has no basis in reality. And yet it was retweeted hundreds of times. If you stop and think about, it makes no sense. It sounds progressive and makes for a nice ‘edu-soundbite’, but is wrong. And is it harmful to good teaching. The idea that teaching content has become obsolete in the age of Google is absurd.

vango_just-google-it_1

In order to think deeply about anything, you need to know a lot about it. This is one of the most undervalued truths about learning. Content knowledge is a prerequisite for any meaningful thinking, because without something factual in your memory, thinking is shallow. Any discussion or analysis without a strong base of facts will inevitably devolve into empty ideas and guess work.

This is because our active cognitive processing capacity is finite, so if we lack the knowledge, our brains end up being crowded with trying to access and process new information, taking away the ability to think deeply about something. Knowing facts frees up our minds to tackle concepts at a more substantial level. The automaticity that results from being able to draw from a bank of existing knowledge has a significant effect on learning. Why? Because you can only make connections, comparisons and analogies to what you already know. The rich get richer.

Many educators feel that it is unnecessary to systematically teach kids content. Transmission, or the direct teaching of facts, has become unfashionable. Somehow it has become regarded as ‘bad practice’. This view, which Daisy Christodoulou calls a “myth of education” and discusses in her book, Seven Myths About Education and the article, “Minding the Knowledge Gap: The Importance of Content in Student Learning”, is having a negative impact on student learning.

It is creating a generation of students that have little to no understanding of history, who lack the fundamentals of math and have poor grammar skills. Why bother learning all these useless facts they say, when Google will just do it for them in a fraction of a second. Contrary to myth, you can’t just look it up on the Internet if you don’t know why you would do so in the first place. And even if you did, processing all these new facts means there’s little room left over for critical thinking.

The power of knowledge comes from its breadth, not from answers offered up by a quick search (which is inherently biased due to Google’s algorithms). The reality is we need a large store of knowledge in order to think creatively, have deep discussions, and solve problems. If we fail to teach content knowledge, our students will suffer. Take the time to teach facts, the investment is worth it.

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