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I remember pulling some all-nighters during my high school and college years. A test was scheduled for the next day, and there were so many random facts and pieces of information to be recalled for it that every moment counted. Another hour and another memory trick might just secure a few more bits of information until the test. And the more I could stuff into my head, the better my chance at receiving a good grade.
It’s funny, but I don’t recall a single one of those facts now. Those cramming sessions had one goal in mind: to remember until the test. Once the test was over, my memory no longer needed to entertain those facts, and they were dismissed.
So the good grade, which was supposed to represent how much I knew about the subject, was only a testament to how much I could cram for the short term. I didn’t really know.
They Cram But Don’t Know
Cramming does not equal knowing.
In fact, the more information we throw at our students, the more they have to resort to cramming methods just to keep up. Once the test or assignment is over, their minds jettison most of those facts to make room for the next batch. How can we call this futile process “education”?
It’s no wonder students who go through a perpetual cycle of cramming, testing, emptying, and cramming again lose their natural desire for knowledge. They have been schooled in a shallow counterfeit and develop an aversion to anything remotely like it. Thus, we end up with adults who stop reading; who stop wanting to know; who stop asking questions to satisfy their curiosity about things; indeed, who stop being curious at all; and as a result, who stop growing.
Cramming is not a modern technique. Charlotte Mason recognized its futility and the harm it can do:
“We all want knowledge just as much as we want bread. We know it is possible to cure the latter appetite by giving more stimulating food; and the worst of using other spurs to learning is that a natural love of knowledge which should carry us through eager school-days, and give a spice of adventure to the duller days of mature life, is effectually choked; and boys and girls ‘Cram to pass but not to know; they do pass but they don’t know.’ The divine curiosity which should have been an equipment for life hardly survives early schooldays” (Vol. 6, p. 57).
What if, instead of filling and emptying and filling and emptying our children’s minds in a futile endeavor to pass, we gave them less to know but expected them to really know it?
The simple truth is that we can’t teach our children all about everything. It’s impossible. No brain can hold that much information. As they are trying to keep up with today’s information, so much more is being generated that they can’t help but continue to fall behind. It’s a mathematical fact in this information age.
We must make choices. We must select where our focus will be. If we have the courage, we can give our children a deeply meaningful education—one that esteems how well they know more than how much. And in doing so, we will also preserve for them the love of learning that will guarantee their continuing to learn all throughout their lives.