|5 Reasons Why Learning IS Important
Question: I understand we forget 80 percent of everything we learn in three months’ time and a higher percentage is forgotten as time passes. Why, then, should we put children through the agony of learning? Why is mental exercise needed if the effort is so inefficient?
Answer: Your question reflects the viewpoint of old progressive education theorists. They wanted school curriculum to be nothing more than “life adjustment.” They placed low priority on intellectual discipline. Even some college professors have adopted this “no content” philosophy. They reason the material we learn today may be obsolete tomorrow, so why learn it? I strongly disagree with this approach to education. There are at least five reasons why learning is important, even if we forget much of what we’re taught:
(1) Teaching self-discipline is a very important component of the academic experience. Students learn to sit for long hours, follow directions, complete assignments, and use their mental faculties. Homework is relatively unimportant as an educational tool; it is a valuable instrument of discipline. Since adult life often requires self-sacrifice, sweat, and devotion to causes, school should help shape a child’s capacity to handle this future responsibility. Play is important in a child’s life, too. Youngsters should not work all the time. Home and school should provide a healthy balance between discipline and play.
(2) We are changed by what we learn, even if the facts are later forgotten. No college graduate could remember everything he learned in school, yet he is a very different person for having gone to college. Learning changes values, attitudes, and concepts, which don’t fade in time.
(3) Even if the learned material cannot be recalled, the individual knows the facts exist and where to find them. If we asked a complicated question of an uneducated man, he would likely give a definite, unqualified response. A person with an advanced degree would probably answer the same question more cautiously by saying, “Well, there are several ways to look at it....” He knows the matter is more complex than it appears, even if he doesn’t have the complete answer.
(4) We don’t forget 100 percent of what we learn. The most important facts lodge in our permanent memory. The human brain is capable of storing two billion bits of data in a lifetime; education is the process of filling that memory bank with useful information.
(5) Old learning makes new learning easier. Each mental exercise gives us more associative cues which to link future ideas and concepts. I wish there were an easier, more efficient process for shaping human minds than the slow, painful experience of education. But I’m afraid we must depend on this old-fashioned approach until a “learning pill” is developed.