Read a fascinating interview with the photographer Bruce Davidson where the interviewer (Charlotte Cotton) points out that neuroscience has shown that “in the process of recalling a memory we literally reposition that memory in a new place in our neural systems, among new experiences – a new context.” Cotton goes on to say that she finds this “a really liberating thing to think about, that we are constantly renewing moments from our past.”
This has intriguing implications to the way in which we read photographs, or indeed any text and it also has implications in the way in which we think about the accumulation of knowledge. For if we accept knowledge as being memories stored in our neural systems then it would appear that there is actually no such thing as ‘definitive knowledge’ in so far as those elements of knowledge are perpetually changing (however subtly) simply thanks to the way in which new connections are being made each time we recall them.
Current mantras amongst many educationalist Twitterati appear to be very much around accumulation of knowledge. “Students need to know” (remember) “this and that” they tell us. To which I suggest the correct response would be “yes, perhaps they do. And?” Or possibly even “That may be so, but also So What?”. Try this at home. It provides endless
hours seconds of sublime entertainment. “The capital city of Albania is Tirana”. So What? “Babies have around 100 more bones than adults”. Really? But So What? “A teaspoonful of neutron star would weigh 6 billion tons”. Wow! But really… So What? And Why Would I Care?
Knowledge out of context is just ammunition that might might allow us to be successful at trivia quizzes, which is a fleetingly hollow thrill at best. Surely the thing that matters is the way we plug that knowledge into new neural connections to give meaning outside of mere remembrance/parroting of facts? It seems as though the notion of synthesising knowledge (or certainly the notion that we teach HOW to synthesise knowledge, because that would be a SKILL) has fallen firmly out of fashion with Educational Trendsetters and Tastemakers in recent years and this, I think is a damned shame if not a profound mistake.
Are we teaching our students to think and create with knowledge? Or are we just building a new generation of trivia quiz experts?