“Self-education is the only kind of education there is.” – Mark Twain
Today, as I was going through the process I use to recall the amount I spend on gas each time I visit the pump, I took a moment to consider why it just about always works.
I don’t set out to memorize the cost but rather to find a mathematical way to recall it later. For example, today I spent $31.26 on gas. I could try to memorize that amount, which would be relatively simple for a short while, but instead I considered this: “3-1=2; 3×2=6; I spent $31.26.” I only have to remember the 3 and the 1 to pull the number from my memory. If I recall it as 31 instead of two individual numbers, my chances of
recalling the full number later are reduced.
I thought about this today and realized that what I am doing is providing context for recalling seemingly insignificant numbers. I don’t need to remember them because I can find them online in my bank statement. I don’t have to do anything with them except make sure there is money in the bank to cover that amount. They are meaningless, unless I give them meaning.
The same is true for the curriculum taught in schools. Unless there is a context, unless there is relevance and unless there is a practical use for the information being taught, it is soon forgotten. Historically we attend school to learn facts in a limited number of disciplines; rarely are the connections between the disciplines emphasized. When we can make connections related to the information, we can better remember the information. Seeing the usefulness of the information presented allows us to make connections that are personal and relevant, increasing the chances to recall it later.
Much of what we learn and use is acquired outside of the walls of a school building. The purpose of school is shifting more each day. We are no longer trying to simply teach a discrete set of skills or knowledge but instead are trying to teach children how to relate ideas, ask questions and explore topics more deeply. The more we allow time to stew on ideas and consider how one idea or concept might be linked to another, the more educated we become. We are no longer preparing students for an industrial economy but instead a knowledge-based economy, which requires them to continue learning and relating ideas to others they have learned.