Listserv: Memorizing vs. Learning

Being inspired by other people’s ideas and not having any of your own are two very different things. I have many heroes and sources from which I gain inspiration and material to further my own ideas and actions, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The key difference between the copy-cat and the independent thinker is that the copy-cat is capable of merely reading and memorizing words and phrases. He never develops the critical thinking skills needed to analyze other’s ideas and compare them to personal experience and the rest on his knowledge. Rather, he merely memorizes them, stuffing them into an ever-larger closet full of contradictions and inconsistencies.

The errors of such a process becomes obvious when such a person attempts to apply his knowledge to answer a question which involves arranging the ideas he already holds in a new way: because he never learns to relate ideas and concepts together, he is unable to do anything but spit out the same old lines he has memorized word by word.

For example, a student may take a programming class and memorize all the commands of a language and all the functions needed to accomplish certain tasks, but ask him to write a program using the most basic of these commands, and he will be completely helpless unless he has learned the relationships and meanings of the commands and functions. Likewise, many students study arithmetic, geometry, algebra, calculus in their education, but without integrating and learning the meaning and inter-relationships of these subjects, they will be unable to solve the most basic mathematical problems in real life. They will study history not as a chain of causally-linked events and trends, but as unrelated dates and actions, and science not as integrated and related fields, but as abstract, trivial, and independent areas.

It is not surprising then, that such people will view philosophy not as an integrated, and hierarchical structure, but a series of abstract questions, to be solved by logical calculus or left open with a big question mark.

The person who actually learns, rather than merely memorizing is not only able to relate existing knowledge and apply it to new situations, but more importantly, he can critically judge the ideas of his teachers, no matter how well-regarded they may be. Most students take their professor’s ideas at their word, either neutrally memorizing material and spiting it back out, or finding something instinctively wrong with ideas (perhaps because their parents, peers, or preacher told them otherwise) but being unable to say just why because the professor’s words are just as un-integrated as their previous knowledge. So, they put a question mark on the whole thing, and adopt a general apathy and equivocate all ideas as just “opinions.”

This, then is the general stupor in which most we find most people today, and it is the direct result of an educational system that fails to provide students with the critical thinking skills (despite a superficial dedication to it) needed to integrate and evaluate knowledge.

1 Comment

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One Response to Listserv: Memorizing vs. Learning

  1. cheri christensen

    My children were born in the 1980’s my concern is they were taught in school to be obedient. Do what the teacher asks. But they were never taught problem solving. 2 glaring examples I went from self sufficient. To being a burden on society. Due to health issues. I have a water faucet in my front yard. My daughter has told me I can’t get water to back yard. She is very intelligent and got a full ride scholarship to a private university. But can’t figure out you can connect two hoses together. Last week I went to a fast food restaurant and asked for iced coffee. The response amazed me ” I can’t sell you that it’s not on our menu.” Asked can you sell me a cup of coffee and abglass of ice.

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