Brent Simmons on History and Memorization

How many facts should we memorize?

Brent wrote a short but great piece on his blog about school and the importance of memorization and learning stories.

He linked to an article about Texas and the AP History Test. He wasn’t worried about Texas as much as this statement in the article:


The controversy stems from the recent overhaul of the AP test, administered by the New Jersey-based College Board, that was meant to de-emphasize memorization. —

What are schools for?

What should students be learning about? I struggled in school my whole life, trying to memorize things that I wasn’t interested in. I’m glad my parents forced me to study things I might not have studied on my own, but it wasn’t until I got out of (dropped out of) college that I really started finding things I was interested in learning about.

Stories help us remember. Someone could tell you that 30 men died on an island in Japan in 1940-something, and force you to parrot back some facts, but if you hear a story told by a man who was on that island, and what it felt like to watch his friends die, you’ll remember.

We face a difficult situation today: when you have access to the largest database and community (internet) in the history of the world, what should you pay attention to and learn about?

The Basics

I think it is important that we teach kids the basics: how to think for themselves, how to read, how to write, how to use computers, history, science, math, language, how to interact with other people, and how take care of themselves.

I think teaching someone how to learn and expand their knowledge is the most valuable skill.

As Brent mentioned in his article, it’s important to know the stories about how we got here. If you don’t study and memorize history, you’ll make bad choices that you might otherwise have avoided.

Lifelong learners

I don’t regret the things I didn’t study in college. I’m 29 years old, and I’m more excited about learning than ever. I look forward to reading books and studying new things like most people look forward to a vacation. I was never the poster child for good students. Quite the opposite, in fact. My mother spent more time trying to get me to do homework than any of my 9 siblings. Both of my older siblings have college degrees (my older brother has a MBA, and my older sister is about to have her masters in psychology), and I’m finishing my associates (that’s a 2 year degree for any foreigners reading this).

I grew up wondering if I would be crippled my whole life because I didn’t get a college degree. Instead, I started my own business (which is thriving), and I’ve taught myself a ton of useful skills, and made so many amazing friends on the internet because of my desire to learn and share what I know. I can’t imagine how limited learning opportunities were before the internet, and I think our #1 goal for future generations should be to teach them how to learn, and set them on a path of life long learning.

Of course, this means making sure everyone has access and equal opportunity, but that’s a post for another day.