You don’t need to know what the answer is, just where it is.

Decades ago a woman who was new to the neighborhood called me every few months. She always would say a few polite sentences before she got down to business, but then she would ask me a question. She wanted to know where she could get something or how she could do something. Oddly enough, I rarely could answer her questions, but I would tell her, “You might try . . .” and gave her a place  to start.

Much of education is knowing where to find an answer, not knowing the answer. The answer also has to be understood. In math, we often require students to know the quadratic formula, but the formula is useless without knowing when to use it and what ‘a’, ‘b’, and ‘c’ are. Outside of an academic testing situation, it is easy to look up the quadratic formula.

An education system should spend some time on teaching students how to find answers, not just what the answers are, but sometimes education goes too far in that direction. When a college student uses the calculator to subtract one from three, he has learned too few facts although he has learned where he can get the answer.


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