We Still Need to Know Things

by Rusty Osborne

summer calendarThe wipers were swishing the April rain off of the windshield on our morning commute. Three days of non-stop rain had our kids longing for the bright days of summer.

“Dad, when is the first day of summer?” came floating up from the third row of seats.

“I’m not sure. Let me ask Siri…Siri when is the first day of summer?”

“Let me see what I can find. The first day of summer is June 20th,” replied our digitized British fact finder.

I immediately felt pretty proud of myself. I had swiftly and safely gotten an answer to my child’s question while taking everyone to school. Winning! Then it hit me: I’m getting dumber! Why did I not know summer’s start date? This is basic elementary knowledge, like the alphabet, times tables, and the number of days in a month. I should know this.

Internet commentators have long been reporting the softening of the modern mind due to an overdependence on technology, yet we tend to believe this only about other people—not ourselves.

Sadly, this phenomena is not just an anecdotal reality. It has been crystalized into “learning theories” in the halls of academia. Scholars would tell us that memorizing facts (that is, remembering) is a deficient goal for educational endeavors. As educators, we should strive for our students to do things like understand, analyze, evaluate, and create—not simply remember.

It is quite obvious that there is a different level of processing going on when one recites the alphabet versus applying that knowledge in the act of reading. However, the application of reading will never occur without the rote memorization of arbitrary information like an alphabet. Memorization is a necessary component.

I think it is important to state that this is not simply a literary or humanities argument. Imagine if you visited your family doctor, and upon doing an abdominal examination, she pulls out her smart phone and says, “Hmm this part right here feels a bit swollen. Hold on, let me look up what that part is called again…I always forget that one.” You would panic and run! We expect practitioners in all disciplines to have a base level of knowledge necessary for problem solving and drawing conclusions.

If memorization is vital for applying knowledge within fields like medicine, computer science, or history, we should not be surprised to see that it is necessary for the application of biblical truth as well. Thousands of years before our modern pedagogues, King David understood that memorization was essential to living a faithful life:

I have stored up your word in my heart,

                                    that I might not sin against you…

I will delight in your statutes;

                                    I will not forget your word. (Ps 119:11, 16)

David understood that knowing God’s Word—having it memorized and available—formed a direct link to our sin fighting abilities. Over and over again in the Old Testament, God calls his people to remember his word, a pattern C.S. Lewis picks up on and highlights in The Silver Chair every time Aslan tells Jill to “remember the signs.”

Technology has undoubtedly made information acquisition easier and faster. However, let’s remember that there is no substitute for knowledge. Perhaps we can justify deferring to Siri for mundane facts like the first day of summer when we are actively memorizing and remembering things that matter.

 Rusty Osborne serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, MO. He is also the editor for Faithful Lives: Christian Reflections on the World, a journal published by the College, and co-founder and editor for Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament. Having completed his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies/Old Testament from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he regularly teaches courses on Christian Worldview, Old and New Testament, and Theology. He has published several academic and popular level articles, and loves championing the life of the mind among the evangelical Christian community. When he is not teaching, writing, reading, or running, he would like to be fly fishing with his wife Sara. You can follow him on Twitter @osborne_rusty.

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