Although my main points come from that essay, written in 2000, I will also be referencing his essay Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge—of Words and the World, written in 2003.
"The progressive theory that students should gain knowledge through a limited number of projects instead of by taking courses in separate subjects is based on the following reasoning. If you learn a bunch of facts in separate, academic courses you will passively acquire a lot of inert, fragmented knowledge. You will be the victim of something called "rote learning." But if you engage in integrated, hands-on projects you will achieve integrated, real-world knowledge. By this more natural approach you will automatically absorb the relevant facts you need."
"Any specific facts that you didn't gain you can look up later in a reference book or, nowadays, on the Internet. Broad, factual knowledge, it is said, is mostly pointless because the facts will be "out of date" within five years. Last January, an education professor was quoted as saying that "detailed information need no longer be taught because it can easily be garnered from the computer and the Internet. "You can always look it up" has always been a watchword of the progressive approach."
"But the important question is, how do we best prepare our students for lifelong learning? Is the in-depth study of a few topics, practice with a variety of "thinking skills," and access to the Internet the best formula? Cognitive psychology suggests it is not"
"There is a consensus in cognitive psychology that it takes knowledge to gain knowledge. Those who repudiate a fact-filled curriculum on the grounds that kids can always look things up miss the paradox that de-emphasizing factual knowledge actually disables children from looking things up effectively."
Basically we're presented here with two types of learning, progressive and cognitive. Progressive learning is schooling focused intensively in two or three subjects at a time, over the entire year or semester. The learning process is gradual, and is thought by it's supporters that it is a more natural learning process therefore we absorb the information more quickly--and we're preparing ourself for a lifelong learning. As mentioned in the quote above where Hirsch explains that progressivism gives the student a broad bank of knowledge and whatever he doesn't learn he can look up.
How does this apply to the course? Well, that main argument for progressivism of "you can always look it up" wouldn't apply if print culture (and today, digital, too) didn't exist.
However, the argument against progressivism wouldn't exist without references-- dictionaries, encyclopedias, academic articles, etc. Cognitive learning supports deeper knowledge of many subjects as opposed to a broad knowledge base. Because, according to Hirsch, "the novice has this difficulty...the human mind is able to assimilate only three or four new items before further elements evaporate from memory."
Hirsch is arguing here that cognitive (or Core learning) learning allows students to gain more than novice knowledge on the subjects their being taught, therefore when they go to look things up they do so more efficiently because they know what they're looking for, and because they already have a grasp of the subject they're looking up. What he says in the statement above translates to: people who already have a deeper knowledge of the subject can absorb information from reference tools better because they're not learning many new things at once. Take Hirsch's quote from the second article:
"Domain knowledge enables readers to make sense of word combinations and choose among multiple possible word meanings. A typical newspaper article shows why it’s important to know in advance something about the subject matter of a text in order to understand it. If we are reading a story about a baseball game in the newspaper sports section,we must typically know quite a lot about baseball in order to comprehend what is being said. Think of the quantity of baseball knowledge that has to be already in mind to understand the simple sentence “Jones sacrificed and knocked in a run.” Strung together in this fashion, the literal words are almost meaningless. A baseball-ignorant Englishman reading that sentence would be puzzled even if there were nothing amiss with his fluency or general knowledge of words like “sacrificed.” Words have multiple purposes and meanings, and their meaning in a particular instance is cued by the reader’s domain knowledge."
I personally know a lot about figure skating since I participated in the sport for 15 years. I would gain a lot more from reading an article on how to execute a clean double axel (not spelled incorrectly, named after a man who invented the jump) than my little brother, or probably most of my professors even, because I already know what key words I want to look up, and I already have a deep rooted knowledge of the sport. So I'll also retain the information better than they would because I'm not learning a ton of new things at once.
I wouldn't be writing this blog entry, especially not on this topic-- heck, I wouldn't even be in this course, if it weren't for the evolution of print. Hirsch wouldn't have expertise on this subject if it weren't for print culture. Personally, from what I've been learning in this course, I now believe manuscript is man's greatest technology, because it lead to the need for print (and thankfully, the Internet). Who cares about the wheel.
Think about how much more you'd gain if you actually took the time to look every word up that you didn't understand. That's a lot of work, and a lot of extra time invested. You'd ultimately gain more from the reading; you're obviously already a literate person if you're reading, so you know the context the word is in. When you look that word up, chances are you'll never forget the meaning again.
Hirsch mentions a growing gap in vocabulary on page 186 in WM, "It's hard for a child or adult to look things up if vocabulary limitations keep them from making basic sense out of the words in a reference book or on the Internet."
Now to my questions:
Do you often use references outside assigned readings when they're not required?
I usually don't, because I sometimes find it just confuses me more. This is often the case with topics that are new to me, like when I go to write the first paper for a course in a semester.
When you're reading and cross-referencing, do you use the Internet, or hard copies of references?
I use hard copies, because it's actually easier for me personally. I like to lay in bed or get away from my computer when I read. There's something about being front of a complex machine that has billions more possibilities from the book in my hand that's distracting while I'm trying to read. It's more convenient for me to have a dictionary to reference beside me then having to wake my computer up and point/click to dictionary.com.
Hirsch states on page 189 that, "One of the most important principles of psychology is that knowledge builds on knowledge." This brings me back to a question Dr. Jerz asked me in a comment on Ex 1 this semester: "When you read online, are you flitting from site to site following whatever intersts you, or are you looking for an answer to a specific question, or deeply exploring the depths of a particular site or issue?"