Why Don’t We Teach the Telephone Book?

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  1. Guest

    Of course, this is meant to be facetious, but, really, I don't think it's a very good analogy. You do need to "know" a few things to use the phone book effectively, like the concept of "alphabetical order" and the "fact" of which order the letters are actually in and the "rules" of alphabetizing, and perhaps even the twist that phonetics do not always equal letters ("Phelps" is not under "F"). It's also a lot more efficient to memorize some numbers (like your own number, which you must repeat frequently).

    I teach neuroscience, and a student asked me before the last exam "Do we need to memorize the Nernst equation?" (For those of you not in neuroscience, the Nernst equation is the mathematical expression of how the electrical characteristics of a neuron are established, a very core feature of what makes the nervous system function.) My reply: "Well, if memorizing the equation helps you to understand the concepts that it represents, then yes, you should memorize it. Alternatively, if you truly understand those concepts, then you should be able to derive the equation and so not need to memorize it." If this student is going to take an upper-level neuroscience course in the future, s/he would be rather handicapped if s/he needed to look up the meaning of the Nernst equation every time it came up!

    In other words, the distinction between "facts" that can be looked up, and the concepts on which those facts are based (which can also be looked up) are not always so distinct, and sometimes it's a lot more effective for future learning in science if a student has a solid base onto which new understanding can be constructed. The picture of the student buried under books that leads the article seems to me more likely to be the one who has to "look up" everything to make sense of new material, rather than the one who can connect material in an upper-level course to what was previously learned.

  2. Mike

    I'm just upset that anyone would even use something as obsolete as a telephone book in a modern-day analogy. You just missed anyone in their early 20's and under. They probably have no idea what you're even talking about.

  3. Refilwe

    I agree with what Mike posted. In this era people depend on technology more. It will even consume time to go through a telephone directory, while with technology everything is just within your finger's reach.

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