Memory cannot be outsourced

Posted on 07-04-2012

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post arguing that the ‘traditional’ understanding of a hierarchical, teacher-centric classroom has not existed in English schools since at least the 1960s. In the comments thread, I am trying to list examples of people claiming that this model of teaching still does exist (normally in the context of them saying that it should be abolished). Andrew Old has been particularly diligent in finding examples. Thank you Andrew.

In this post, I want to do something similar. Here, I want to list examples of people claiming that we don’t need to learn facts because we have the internet. I mean things like this:

What matters today is how to process and manipulate knowledge, rather than absorbing and memorising facts from within a narrow specialism…Facts learned at school become irrelevant to most of life’s challenges since the internet makes knowledge universal and immediately accessible.

And this:

Why teach them about the Battle of Hastings when they have got Google?

And this:

We are no longer in an age where a substantial ‘fact bank’ in our heads is required.

This is another example of a completely false idea which nevertheless seems to be extremely pervasive. What is so frustrating about this one is that the hard evidence about why we need to memorise facts is solid and well-documented, but not nearly so well-known. Here is what I think is the best article about this available on the internet – E.D. Hirsch’s You Can Always Look It Up…Or Can You? I have also written about it here, here and here.