Staff Editorial: It's not what you know, but how to know

As crunch time approaches and Geneseo students begin to quiver under the workload, their brains hardly able to manage it, the question must be raised: Why, exactly, do we learn this way?

The typical course is simple: The professor gives out a syllabus, the syllabus is followed to its end, everyone writes papers of assigned length, takes a midterm and final and then goes home for the intervening break to recuperate brain cells.

Problems arise, however, when the sheer amount of work being assigned is considered. Many courses require a reading of a textbook, perhaps several outside novels or dense works of classic literature, followed by the course of professor-specific content. The resulting crush of information leads to an unfortunate condition known by some as "academic bulimia" - the regurgitation of raw facts, rather than the acquisition and synthesis of knowledge.

We've all had the class we think will be a breeze: There are maybe two short required novels, which are read and then discussed. But what discussions! When the class is over, something has been learned about life, literature, human nature or any of thousands of possible other topics that enlighten. Why aren't all courses like that?

The answer usually provided is this: The sheer breadth of knowledge deemed essential by the intellectual community cannot be sampled by reading only a few books per class and discussing them in depth. It's important to know, says academia, what Plato meant in his Republic, what a boson is, what a da Vinci looks like and what the limit of x is as it approaches one. What isn't considered, though, is that to know these things and be able to repeat them is not to actually have learned.

Instead, why are courses not teaching us how to learn, that we might effectively pursue knowledge on our own after college? Considering the rise of the Internet and the ready availability of information, why do our teachers not show us the means by which we can learn, rather than what they think we have to learn? The reason the courses with light book-loads and long conversations are so great is because, in the end, the books have been utterly digested, rather than skimmed and written up in a five to seven page paper, double spaced. To learn is not to know; to learn is to know how to know.