It’s Not What You Know That’s Important…

I’m spending my Sunday morning at school proctoring the Senior exit exam for four graduating senior communication majors in our university. More were supposed to be here, but either overslept, blew the exam off, or have already made arrangements to take the test later. It’s an essay exam in the traditional Blue Books, and I’m already getting complaints from them and questions about how much they have to really have to write.

“What if I can answer the question in a sentence?” one asks.

My response: “As long as you can sufficiently convince us that you’ve answered the question in one sentence, then that should work.”

The trick is not forcing them to follow concrete rules–you must write for this length of time or write that many words–but understand it is all about persuasion and credibility. How credible are you if you take fifteen minutes for a two-hour test? Eyebrows will raise, and the odds are against you, but if you can answer the questions adequately, it’s all moot. But therein lies the rub.

I remember going through doctoral classes and starting on my dissertation. “I don’t feel like I know any more than I did before I started classes,” I confided to my mentor. “Shh,” he responded. “That’s the secret.”

When you march across the stage in cap and gown and they put the cowl over you to signify you are now a doctor, they don’t say, “Here’s someone who knows something.” Rather they say, Here is a scholar. Graduate school is all about learning to learn. It’s about learning how to find out things.

I’ve read recently that less and less emphasis is being put in school on rote memorization, and fewer students can recite information by memory. Why? Because they have that information at the tips of the fingertips all the time anyway. Their smart phones give them access to the knowledge of the Library of Congress and more instantaneously. It’s no longer necessary to have it memorized. Now what’s important is to know where and how to find it, and what to do with it once you have it.

There’s a lot of emphasis here on critical thinking, something some parents have issues with, but something I wholeheartedly support. It’s critical that these kids be able to determine why they believe what they believe, and give context to all the data that is thrown at them every day. That’s where education is headed, and that’s where their heads should be.

As far as the senior exit exam goes, well, that will probably be changing in years to come. It’s still important they know what Freedom of the Press means, but less important they know some of the traditional terminology of their disciplines.

After all, it’s not what you know that’s important. It ‘s what you do with it.