Cookies and Capacitors

Learn application first, memorize second

Sat, Jan 8, 2011 at 4:43PM

Unfortunately, the school I attend is riddled with useless, rote facts. I cannot comprehend why we would ever memorize the parts and workings of a system (a tool) before we learn its basic purpose and the practical application of such tools.

In actual life, as far as I’ve experienced, people learn the purpose of tools before they learn their workings and mechanisms that allow them to function. I would like to use the Internet as an example, as I believe it is the most widespread tool in modern history. Out of the billions of Internet users worldwide, only a small percentage actually knows how information is queried and served. The process is long and complex, so only those with a passion for the Internet (a tool) care to concentrate on the Internet’s operation. For everyone else using the Internet, they simply care about its function: instant information. They do not know how it works, nor do they care to expand their knowledge on its workings. To them, it is a tool. A useful tool, but it is not crucial to know how the Internet works.

So why do teachers insist upon teaching how things work before showing students practical applications? For instance, mathematics is taught where students are expected to memorize formulas and algorithms before learning these formula’s and algorithm’s applications. I would prefer to see what the quadratic equation can do before I learn it’s most intricate mechanisms. Another example is physics. Many of my classmates dread physics because they think the class is boring. Why should a student care about the workings of tension equilibriums and fluid dynamics if they don’t serve a greater purpose? Why have we never learned a practical application for these tools? We should teach the purpose of a tool before the tool’s mechanisms of operation so a student can recognize where he or she might apply such tools. This will lead to students caring more about their work, as they will have the ability to recognize the practicality of tools.

Practicality of tools is extremely important because without the application of tools, we would be nowhere. Imagine a world where a user was required to know exactly how a tool works. They need to take a test on the tool’s operations before they are allowed to use it in a formal setting. Also, they are not to be told the application of this tool until they take this test. It just doesn’t work.

Teaching the purpose of a tool before teaching how a tool works is a much better version of education because it allows for a student’s curiosity to take them deeper into the subject. In the workforce (which is what makes education worthwhile in our society) application comes first, specialization comes second. A model of education reflecting this belief will prove to produce more students who care about their work, rather than thinking jobs are dreadful and working solely for money.