Substance vs. Shadow

How many of your classmates would bother to read a several-page lesson if they knew the teacher would ask them to reproduce a number of facts written in a summary after the main text? How many of your classmates would not only read the whole text, but also search for more information on the Internet / in the library and try to learn as much as they can?

Who would learn more – the summary reader or the Internet explorer? Who would get a better grade – the one who has memorized the required list of facts or the one who has read a lot but failed to remember some of the facts on the list?

Students coming from different educational cultures might give exacty the opposite answers as they might have adopted different ideas about the value of education.

In my country most teachers praise the students who memorize and reproduce a list of facts. They rarely care about students’ level of understanding or depth and scope of interest. In fact, some really curious and deep thinking students are often scolded for asking questions on relevant issues not explicitly mentioned in the textbook. These students’ efforts to research further are neither validated not encouraged, and some of them might be punished through low grades for “wasting” their time on “extraneous” research rather than focusing on memorizing the syllabus lesson.

Here is why it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that my students have difficulty understanding the first part of T. Kaori Kitao’s essay “The Usefulness of Uselessness”, which I use to introduce them to the idea of liberal arts. In a Bulgarian school we don’t need to read a fable; what we need is to memorize what authority believes to be the moral.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Nikki on February 18, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    Hahaha, I was surprised by this text too! 🙂 But it was a nice surprise to se that some people really care for the thing called enthusiasm and passion. Memorising raw facts can only cause apathy sooner or later, and that produces people without any dreams or goals … sooner or later…


  2. Posted by Vesi on February 20, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    I remember the first time we read “The usefulness of uselessness” I thought “Oh wow, so such education exists and I love it and I want to be part of it” 🙂
    That essay opened my eyes and I am very glad for that 🙂


  3. Posted by dodo on March 6, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    sad but true

    “memorize what authority believes to be the moral.”


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