Why Don’t We Want Our Kids to be Smart?

I keep hearing people say something that bothers me.  It usually involves what schools should be doing in 2014 (or fill in the blank for whatever year it happens to be).  Basically, it goes something like this:

  • Teachers are not a font of knowledge, they are there to help students learn how to find their own research.
  • Students shouldn’t be spending their time learning things they can just google.
  • We should teach critical thinking, not memorization.

I take issue with these statements for several reasons.

1) There are certain things students should just know.  While a calculator can certainly perform the function 3X2, the time it takes to punch that into a calculator is silly when a student can simply (and quickly) answer 6.  Having taught math for 8 years, I’m here to tell you, the higher level thinking needed in algebra is hindered when students don’t know those basic facts.

2) Besides multiplication facts, students should know their address, their phone number.  While google is a wonderful thing, it won’t tell a student who is lost in the city what his or her parent’s cell phone number is.  I worry that we are setting our kids up for being hopelessly lost somewhere, unable to contact anyone because they never learned those basic pieces of information. (And yes, I have 6th graders who don’t know their parents’ cell phone number – and don’t have their own cell phone).

3) Shouldn’t an American citizen know their state capital, the date the Declaration of Independence was signed, and who the president is?  These are all pieces of information that we can google, but it seems to me that students should know things like that.

4) Here’s the big one:

What makes people seem “smart”?  Generally, it’s a knowledge base they can use as the situation calls for it.  That knowledge base is information they have learned over the years – most of it something they could look up.  However, having it in their brain, readily available, means they are seen as smart.  It also means they can take that information and apply it correctly.

We do our students a disservice when we don’t hold them to high standards.  I find great success telling my students that by learning whatever I’m teaching that day will make them smarter.  They all want to be smarter and when I point out this will help, they sit up straighter.

So my question is, why don’t we want our kids to be smart?  Why do we want them to be reduced to a google researcher?  Why can’t they have knowledge in their heads?  The memory is a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets.  Instead of telling kids what they don’t need to know, let’s challenge them to learn as much as possible.

Our students should be proud to hold a large amount of knowledge in their heads.  Obviously, once it’s there, it’s only good if they know how to use it.  But let’s stop holding our kids back.  Help them get smarter!  They deserve it!  And so do we, since someday, they’ll be paying our social security!!

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