Myth One – Facts prevent understanding

Posted on 11-06-2013

This blog post summarises chapter 1 of my book Seven Myths about Education. It will be published on March 5th 2014 by Routledge. To read the introduction to this sequence of posts, click here. Click here to preorder if you are in the UK, and here if you are in the US.

In this chapter, I look at the educational theory of Rousseau, Dewey and Freire. All three were hostile to fact-learning, and all three set up a dichotomy between facts and true understanding. I then show how influential their theories have been by looking at the rhetoric of the current national curriculum, which is based on a similar understanding of an opposition between facts and understanding. Finally, I show why their opposition between fact-learning and true understanding is false. Facts are not opposed to understanding; they enable understanding. This is because of the way that our minds work. Our long-term memories are capable of storing a great deal of information whereas our working memories are limited. Therefore, it is very important that we do commit facts to long-term memory, as this allows us to ‘cheat’ the limitations of working memory. The facts we’ve committed to memory help us to understand the world and to solve problems.