Ideas that add up #50

Should teachers tell pupils the way things are or encourage them to find out for themselves? Telling children “truths” about the world helps them learn those facts more quickly. Yet the efficient learning of specific facts may lead to the assumption that when the adult has finished teaching, there is nothing further to learn — because if there were, the adult would have said so. A study just published in Cognition…suggests that is true.

Educational psychology column in The Economist, May 28th, 2011

Pros and cons to both approaches. Facts have value and predigested knowledge can be a useful shortcut, but if they override a child’s natural curiosity then something precious is lost. The innate spirit of enquiry may be hammered out of children by rote or smothered under the weight of off-the-shelf truth, leaving us, as adults, barely able to conceive of knowledge beyond the confines of our adopted mental frames.

Better for the individual, if she wants to pursue knowledge, to retain the capacity to doubt and question and test other people’s hand-me-down “truths” about the world.

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