Education enables knowledge acquisition

Educators today regular proclaim that the kind of memory work required by standardized tests isn’t real learning. The statement, while true, is not exactly news.

A chapter in the Harold Bell Wright’s novel Their Yesterdays is about knowledge. In the chapter, the nameless hero enters the workforce and realizes that he doesn’t know nearly as much as he thought he knew when he finished school.

See if you don’t think this passage from Wright’s novel is as relevant as any topic trending on Twitter.

To repeat what others have thought is not at all evidence that he who remembers is thinking. Great thoughts are often repeated thoughtlessly. A man’s Occupation betrays him or establishes his claim to Knowledge. That which a man does proclaims that which he thinks or in his thoughtlessness finds him out.

Of course, when the man had learned this, he said at first, quite wrongly, that his school days were wasted. He said that what he had called his education was all a mistake—that it was vanity only and wholly worthless. But, as he went on gaining ever more and more Knowledge from the thing that he was doing, and, through that thing, of many other things, he came to understand that his school days were not wasted but very well spent indeed. He came to see that what he had called education was not a mistake. He came to understand that what was wrong was this: he had considered his education complete, finished, when he had only been prepared to begin. He had considered his schooling as an end to be gained when it was only a means to the end. He had considered his learning as wealth to hold when it was capital to invest. He had mistaken the thoughts that he received from others for Knowledge when they were given him only to inspire and to help him in acquiring Knowledge.

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Their Yesterdays was the number two bestselling novel in the United States in 1912. Today it is available free online from Project Gutenberg. I will post a review of Their Yesterdays later this year on my blog of vintage novel reviews, Great Penformances.

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