What others say

(1) Oversimplified learning theory

“The problem…is that “learning” has lost its central meaning in contemporary usage. Most people’s eyes glaze over if you talk to them about “learning”… Little wonder—for, in everyday use, learning has come to be synonymous with “taking in information.” …taking in information is only distantly related to real learning. It would be nonsensical to say, “I just read a great book about bicycle riding—I’ve now learned that.”

Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline, Doubleday/Currency, 1994, p. 13

“...‘Waiting for Superman’...promotes an absurd notion of what teaching is actually about. In one telling moment, a cartoon depicts teachers opening up students' brains and pouring “knowledge” in from a carton. This, we are told, is the way education is supposed to work....If this is your picture of teaching, then we can't even begin to talk about education reform....”

Blog titled “Wasting for Stuporman,” 2010-10-27, by Ben Smith, mathematician,
Research In Practice. http://researchinpractice.wordpress.com/

(2) Overwhelming, disorganized content

“In training a child to activity of thought, above all things we must beware of what I will call “inert ideas”—that is to say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilised, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations.

“The result of teaching small parts of a large number of subjects is the passive reception of disconnected ideas, not illumined with any spark of vitality. Let the main ideas which are introduced into a child’s education be few and important, and let them be thrown into every combination possible. The child should make them his own, and should understand their application here and now in the circumstances of his actual life. From the very beginning of his education, the child should experience the joy of discovery. The discovery which he has to make, is that general ideas give an understanding of that stream of events which pours through his life, which is his life.”

Alfred North Whitehead, “The Aims of Education,” Presidential Address to the Mathematical Society of England, 1916

The Memory System

“Elsa keeps "bombing out" on tests or quizzes that force her to memorize and later answer questions that have only one correct response. She recently flunked a quiz on plant structure despite studying like a devout monk. "I thought I knew all that stuff, but it must have leaked out while I was sleeping." Our school years involve more strenuous exercising of memory than at any other time in our lives. In fact, much more memory is needed for school success than in virtually any career. To varying extents, every course in school is a memory workout.

“And memory is downright complicated with countless little facets to go with many different kinds of things we try to remember. Every student has memory compartments that serve him well, while other parts of memory bring on varying degrees of frustration. The are countless intellectually competent kids who unravel in school because they understand far better than they remember.

“Ironically , there are many students with superb rote memory who succeed with flying colors throughout their schoool years simply by regurgitating factual data. They may be far less successful during adult careers when memory plays much less of s starring role.”

Mel Levine, M.D., A Mind at A Time, Simon & Schuster, New York 2002, p.32


"First, information overload can make people feel anxious and powerless…Second, overload can reduce creativity. Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School has spent more than a decade studying the work habits of more than 9,000 people. She finds that focus and creativity are connected. People are more likely to be creative if they are allowed to focus on something for some time without interruptions. If constantly interrupted or forced to attend meetings, they are less likely to be creative. Third, overload can also make workers less productive. David Meyers, of the University of Michigan, has shown that people who complete certain tasks in parallel take much longer and make many more errors than people who complete the same tasks in sequence."

Schumpeter (column), “Too Much Information,” THE ECONOMIST, July 2-8th 2011, p.59

(3) Limited, limiting learning resources

“What the learned world tends to offer is one second-hand scrap of information illustrating ideas derived from another second-hand scrap of information. The second-handedness of the learned world is the secret of its mediocrity.”

Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education and Other Essays, Macmillian Co. 1929, Republished by Mentor 1949, p. 61

“...I suggest that at all levels of learning K through PhD, some part of the curriculum be given to the study of natural systems roughly in the manner in which we experience them...The idea is that we take our senses seriously... and doing so requires immersion in particular components of the natural world.

“What might such experiences do? ... they would remove the abstractness and secondhand learning that corrupts knowledge...”

David W. Orr, Earth In Mind. Island Press, Washington DC, 1994, p. 95-96

“…the progress of human knowledge often rests on looking at obvious things as if they were mysteries.”

Kenneth Boulding, Society, March/April 1983, p. 84.

“We must begin with what children see, do, and know, and have them talk and write about such things, before trying to talk to them much about things they don’t know.”

John Holt, How Children Learn, Delacorte Press, 1983, p. 181.

“In our visits to schools we received an overwhelming impression of students’ passivity…The energies of these young people were simply not being adequately absorbed in the business of educating themselves— something their teachers can only guide, not do for them.”

John Goodlad, “A Study of Schooling,” Phi Delta Kappan, April 1983, p. 554

(4) Fragmented Knowledge

“There is no longer any principle that unifies the school curriculum and furnishes it with meaning.”

Neil Postman, Phi Delta Kappan, January 1983, p. 316

“All of our experience should have made it clear by now that faculty and students will not derive from a list of disjointed courses a coherent curriculum revealing the necessary interdependence of knowledge.”

Ernest Boyer, paraphrased by Daniel Tanner in his review of Boyer’s book High School; Phi Delta Kappan, March 1984, p. 10

“The division into subjects and periods encourages a segmented rather than an integrated view of knowledge. Consequently, what students are asked to relate to in schooling becomes increasingly artificial, cut off from the human experiences subject matter is supposed to reflect.”

John Goodlad, A Place Called School, McGraw-Hill, 1984, p. 266

More quotes on this topic.

Why we’re getting worse:

“When curriculum is laid out far in advance…and in great detail, students are manipulated beyond any possibility of either spontaneity or responsibility. Nor can you schedule specifically which students will be doing this or that activity, because they don’t all need the same things at the same times, in the same connections…You can’t teach good judgment and make all the decisions yourself, teach students to think for themselves and still control what they talk, read, and write about.”

James Moffett, The Universal Schoolhouse. Jos. Bass, 1994, p. 97

“…The problem is that curricula in schools have not caught up with the 21st century. Too often schools are remediation factories, teaching mind-numbing basic facts. Recently I asked a student why he was considering dropping out. He replied that "I just don't want to know that stuff they're teaching."

“Obsessed with achievement score gains, policy makers seem to have forgotten that schools are designed to serve their local community, to educate children deeply, not simply in basic reading and writing, but in the knowledge that these skills convey. Despite wave after wave of educational reform, we have undervalued knowledge in an information-based economy and in the careers of experts. Education should be about engaging students' minds. This is what real reform is all about.”

Prof. Susan B. Neuman, Letter to the editor, Wall Street Journal, 10/19/2010.
She was assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education under President George W. Bush

More information on this topic:

Another voice:

What to do: Curriculum design—

“The world is stunningly complex, and [humans] can only deal with a limited amount of information at a time.

“But if I have an internal model of the world, I can ‘chunk’ information into manageable packets. I can also use this model to guide my search for and processing of information.”

Jerome Bruner, States of Mind, British Broadcasting Corporation, London, 1983

[Formal schooling] “ imprints a disciplinary template onto impressionable minds and with it the belief that the world really is as disconnected as the divisions, disciplines, and subdivisions of the typical curriculum. Students come to believe that there is such a thing as politics separate from ecology or that economics has nothing to do with physics.”

David W. Orr: Earth in Mind, Island Press, 1994, p.23

“Learning is best when all of a student’s educational experiences merge to form an integrated whole, thereby transforming information into a larger network of personal knowledge.”

Greg Stefanich and Charles Dedrick: Science and Mathematics, 1985, Vol.58, p.275