Susean Orlean, at the New Yorker, takes note of a study that shows students have essentially no knowledge of history. And that’s a problem, she says, but not because knowing when the Civil War started has any value by itself:
So what to make of the news that American students are terrible at history? Unfortunately, this is of the very worrying sort of deficiency, not the you-can-just-Google-it sort. Most fourth graders can’t say why Abraham Lincoln is an important historical figure? Wow. This is far more distressing than if the news had been that fourth graders were bad at reciting multiplication tables, because you can, in fact, Google that. Like teaching cursive writing—which many schools are abandoning—memorizing things that can be easily figured out or looked up sometimes seems a little pointless, except that some neurons are probably engaged each time you plug information into your brain. Being able to reel off a list of dates in history, while useful, is so much less important than understanding why those dates matter, or understanding enough about the way civilization has developed to be able to figure things out from what you already know.
(Via Andrew Sullivan)