on May 27, 2004
Smith, a cognitive psychologist, presents an informal interpretation of two disparate perspectives on human learning. On one extreme he presents the "classical view" in which learning is the natural, implicit, and unconscious byproduct of social contexts. On the other extreme he presents the "official theory" of learning that assumes learning is the result of effort, structure, repetition, and discipline.
This type of dichotomizing, while quite useful in highlighting the distinctions Smith is making, does tend to oversimplify the issues. In this case, he demonizes the official theory while divinizing the classical view. As a result, his tone of voice is a bit extreme, his conclusions faulty, and his suggestions for educational reform unrealistic.
Then why give this slim volume a four star rating? Educators need to be continually reminded, as they are here, that learning is not about recall of facts, but about the restructuring of the students' long-term memory. Long-term memory is arranged semantically. This means that new concepts must build on old ones in some kind of meaningful way. The catch for the educator is that the student is the one who gets to decide what is meaningful.
Education is not about recitation of facts, completion of tests, or skill development. Education is about connecting the student to meaningful content in a way that builds on the innate capacity to learn. It is not taught until the student owns it. Because Smith will settle for nothing less than this, I recommend the book.
on November 14, 2000
This excellent book on learning reemphasizes the mistakes that are being made as far as teaching children (and actually adults). In educational departments in universities, too often more importance is placed on rote learning and not on helping learning to be an enjoyable experience. I am afraid too many teachers are being churned out that feel the pressure to produce for standardized testing, without realizing that learning this same information can happen in such a way as to make it enjoyable, make sense, and be remembered for a lifetime. At this time, too many times students remember for only short-term recall, and then promptly lose the knowledge after the test. Learning is a continual and lifetime process, and Frank Smith reiterates the mistakes that teaching in the U.S. is making in emphasizing the wrong way to learn.
The information Smith gives is vitally important, and he makes several very quotable statements concerning learning and memory which I have used (citing him) in papers. The book is almost too short, and not as readable as I would have liked it. Nevertheless this is an absolute must read for educators, and for would-be teachers prior to entering their teaching jobs. It is also important for those going into educational research and educational testing to be aware of. We can and should expect children to learn, but we definitely are not approaching it the right way. This book can provide plenty of topics for discussions in education departments across the country. Testing should not be the ends, but rather the ability to learn over a lifetime and the ability to continue this process from indirect sources once out of the school system. Karen Sadler, Science Education, University of Pittsburgh
on February 22, 2000
Frank Smith has given educators substantial arguments for resurrecting the need for change debate. Smith goes underneath the surface and exposes the governing ideas that shaped western learning environments. He nicely explains how the influence of the triple whammy of military, behaviorism, and testing all contributed to making the monolithic educational machine more blind and resistant to natural learning. I love the way he ties the forgetting into the equation, and forces us to reflect on our methodologies and goals. In essence, learning according to the "official" system simply is a matter of compliance for the students, and control for the teachers. This is good material for those teaching overseas.
I like the way he addressed how teachers may focus on measuring what is not learned and may fail to see what is actually learned. Instead of finding fault with the student, he comments on the deficiency of the institutionalized "official" policy that goes unquestioned. Simply marvelous. Smith includes objections to his ideas and answers them in a fair manner. The book is easy to read, nicely dotted with interesting educational insights, and does a superb job in contrasting the official view with the classical view of learning. His ideas are no nonsense and resonate with any teacher and student. While his analysis is quite helpful, his simple three step solution was too simple for me. Smith proposes we be more understanding, honest, and I wish he would have given more examples or data that demonstrate how the changes have affected other teachers and systems. I also wish he would have said more about rewarding the self-directed learner.
I found chapter 10 on online education to be a bit alarmist as he portrays the popular notion that technology may end up replacing teachers. I believe, however, that good teachers will always be needed and that good teachers know how to incorporate technology into their learning plans and not be threatened by it. Still, he has a valid point about cognitive science or educational programmers being the new gatekeepers of information. Definitely worth the money. I am recommending it to all of my colleagues as a professional reading group discussion book. Thank you, Dr. Smith.
on June 10, 1998
This book is an easy read -- but filled with engaging content that helps you rethink your teaching methodology. Frank Smith stresses that students learn what is modeled, not just content. He occasionally reassures us not to memorize the book's content, but to read with interest. Do we take away that interest from our students by making them memorize information?
Frank Smith talks about how we build up our own identity by "interacting with the significant people in our lives." He talks about the "clubs" we belong to -- those communities of influential people (both formal and informal).
"Work experience and learning," should be recognized as a significant educational experience. Many times the greatest learning experiences do not come from classroom "sit time." What can we do as educators to effectively link our classrooms to the world of work?
You'll be so glad to read about correct and incorrect spellings of words stored in our memory -- sometimes we aren't able to sort them out. I thought it was just me -- I was glad to know I wasn't the only one!
I have always heard that once something is placed in long-term memory, it's always there. It's also nice to know that just because it's securely stored away, it's not always easy to access it. Frank Smith talks about creating a trail to that stored information. One thought triggers another and so on. That's why brainstorming is such an effective way of pulling together all those concepts so safely packed away in our heads.
Frank Smith goes into the militaristic history of the educational system, and explains why we do certain things -- and challenges educators to understand and change some of that tradition. The language includes "drills" and "batteries of tests," which "perfectly illustrates the insidious infiltration of militaristic thinking in education." Kind of scary, but very interesting and sad as well.
Frank Smith doesn't just point out frailties in o! ur educational system, he offers possible solutions. This book should be read with an open mind -- it is very stimulating indeed.
on May 24, 1999
I read this book as part of a graduate teaching class assignment. It was my first introduction to the works of Frank Smith and I must admit it is quite stimulating and thought-provoking. For those of us who have been trained that "memorization" is the key to academic success, this book will open your eyes to a different world of learning power. I would highly recommend it to all students, teachers, parents and coaches...anyone who wants to understand how they can improve their learning skills and teach others to do the same.