Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Knowledge is a Wonderful Thing

So is this a map of the United Kingdom, Great Britain or the British Isles? A passing comment by Professor Jeffrey Ayers started a couple of us thinking about the question of whether the three terms are synonyms or whether there are geographical or political differences between them. It is, actually, a map of the British Isles which, interestingly, includes Ireland, as well as the islands of Guernsey and Jersey off the coast of France and about 6000 other small islands (according to Wiki). The United Kingdom includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland while Great Britain includes just England, Wales and Scotland, the three countries joined together, as illustrated on this informative website.

There's a tendency in our current skills-based culture to trivialize the role and importance of personal knowledge in our lives and in the field of Education in general. When computers and technology were first integrated into school classrooms there was a sense among many educators that this instant access to knowledge would mean that students no longer would need to know or remember things. They could simply "look it up". The same happened fifty years ago when calculators began to appear. It was thought students would no longer need to remember their addition, subtraction or multiplication facts. How wrong they were.

Instant, independent access to knowledge is one of the things that makes an educated person. It's a great feeling to know things just because one does. The things we know, along with our thinking skills, are the tools we use to solve problems, conduct conversations, write, and generally be human. Knowing things we have taken the time to remember also helps develop our memory skills which in turn help us remember even more things with which to think..

Of course, not everything we are required to remember in school is useful, helpful, or even desirable. I remember learning the following when I was an undergraduate student; Arun, Ouse, Rother, Stour, Medway, Darnet, Mole and Wey. I memorized them so well for an exam that I can still rattle them off without even thinking about them. I even still remember what they are!

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