She's done thousands of shows on thousands of topics. This time, Oprah and 84 percent of the audience are clueless! You'll feel smarter after this show…Oprah knows she does!The show explained things like how e-mail works, how television works, and how telephones work. Now, I'll confess something here. I have an extremely vague idea how some of these things work. But I'd probably lump myself in with Oprah and the other 84 percent of the audience.
The show reminded me of a documentary where 21 of the 23 randomly selected students, all of whom were either students, faculty, or alumni of Harvard University, revealed misconceptions when asked to explain either the seasons or the phases of the Moon. An excerpt from the documentary:
Graduate 1: O.K. I think the seasons happen because as the Earth travels around the Sun, it gets nearer to the Sun, which produces warmer weather and gets farther away which produces colder weather. And thus the seasons.Now, admittedly, 23 people is not exactly a statistically significant sample size. But ask yourself now. Go ahead. How does a TV work? Why do we have seasons? What the heck makes a microwave tick?
Graduate 2: How cold it is or how warm it is in any given time of the year has to do with the closeness of the Earth to the Sun during the seasonal periods.
Graduate 3: The Earth travels around the Sun, and it gets hotter when are closer to the Sun, and it gets colder when we are farther away.
Narrator: These graduates, like many of us, think of the Earth’s orbit as a highly exaggerated ellipse, even thought the Earth’s orbit is very nearly circular, with distance producing virtually no effect on the seasons. We carry with us the strong, incorrect belief that changing distance is responsible for the seasons.
Which brings me to the point of this post: who cares? Who cares if Oprah doesn't know how a television works? Who cares if graduates from Harvard don't know how the seasons happen? The answer: seemingly everyone should. After all, most of these folks are extremely well educated. They learned these things in school! These things were on the mid-term, for chrissakes!
I, too, learned most of these things. But I, too, remember almost none of them. I covered this in this post. But here's the even larger point: in this day and age of information at your fingertips courtesy of Ye Olde Internete, how important is it to commit large chunks o' facts to memory? If it was not so pedagogically valid 30 years ago, it is certainly even less so today.
Which, finally, brings me to the 50,000 foot point: why are most schools still in full coverage mode, committed to The Bunch O Facts curriculum with its mile wide and inch deep approach to learning?