Too much knowledge?

There is nothing like knowing it all to kill the imagination,” write Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon, authors of Imagination First, on the Education Nation web site:

“When we become expert, or think we have, we get the benefits of intellectual shortcuts and far greater processing efficiency-but we suffer the cost of closed-mindedness. Having seen it all, we stop looking. Having been there, we stop going. Having done that, we stop doing.”

“Seriously?” asks Robert Pondiscio in Idiot’s Delight on Core Knowledge Blog.

As an alternative to mind-numbing knowledge, Liu and Noppe-Brandon praise GeoDome, an “experience of pure wonder.”

Using Google Earth, real-time NASA data, state-of-the-art animation designed by a Pixar veteran, a single laptop, a projector, and an Xbox joystick, McConville takes the guests on a journey to . . .  anywhere they want in the known universe.

“We did not dream our way to Google Earth, NASA, Pixar or the Xbox,” Pondiscio points out.

A deep knowledge base, years of training and expertise enable us to create the things that inspire awe in others. And I can’t help but wonder if physicists, engineers, and scientists of every stripe would be surprised to learn that their hard-earned expertise has resulted in “closed-mindedness.”

My husband knows a great deal about electrical engineering, a field in which he earned a PhD. Knowing a lot has enabled him to come up with new ideas, for which he holds several dozen patents. Ignorance is not the mother, father or brother-in-law of invention.

If I were to make a list of the problems afflicting American education, excess knowledge would be very low on the list.

About Joanne


  1. Yup. Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing. I had it wrong all this time.

  2. Stifling knowledge in the name of fostering creativity has been America’s approach to education for decades. We relish and pride ourselves on our ignorance, as if it’s a virtue. We glibly dismiss all the hard work Japanese kids do as pointless and stultifying. Talk to any American teacher and you will likely find someone who is very uncomfortable with the idea of imparting knowledge to kids. We need to shift 180 degrees from this foolish position. Knowledge is the mother of invention and creativity and critical thinking and sanity. Tea Party lunacy thrives in knowledge-deprived brains.

  3. Ben F-

    You’re wrong (or at best misguided) on a couple of points.

    I am an American teacher, and I do my darnedest to impart actual established knowledge. I know quite a few others that do the same. Remarkably, we have found that our students still do better on the new breed of assessments than students of teachers who have embraced the constructivist approach that the assessments were designed for.

    Ignorance is not a virtue in my opinion.

    While I understand that you may have intended to speak about our society or the education community as a whole (in which case I would agree), you did bring in the idea of “any” teacher, and that turns your rant from a general criticism of a heterogeneous group to an attack on every individual of that group.

    Oh, and regarding your Tea Party add-on (nice job throwing in a topic that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject at hand), considering the current administration favors the same educational philosophy that you detest and the Tea Party opposes that same administration, it seems that you actually share in the ‘lunacy.’

  4. Oh, and on a general note, the first time I read Joanne’s post I truly thought the article was satire from the Onion or such.

  5. Couldn’t agree more, Joanne.

  6. Talk to any American teacher and you will likely find someone who is very uncomfortable with the idea of imparting knowledge to kids.

    They are products of a system which gave them next to no knowledge (given the number of teacher-candidates who cannot even pass their basic knowledge exams to graduate from ed school), so what would you expect?

    I am so glad that my parents’ generation was raised with much higher standards.

  7. My KNOWING about the brown shirts and the insidious rise of the Nazi Party (e.g. by reading Isherwood’s Berlin Diaries) enables me to IMAGINE something similar happening here (I’m not saying it will, but it’s conceivable). Knowledge is the mother of imagination.

    Would Tea Partiers recognize the signs of Nazism redux if they saw them? You cannot re-cognize if you’ve never “cognized”.

    An ignorant populace is a dangerous thing.

  8. Oh, Ben. For heaven’s sake. A reasonable study of American Literature (oops! knowledge!) will reveal that the American hero who lacks knowledge but succeeds on good will and creative thinking/grit goes back to the 19th century (at least). It’s ain’t no new thing. If this were class, I’d have you create a list of such characters you know from literature, film, and TV then create a list of what these sorts have in common. Start with Ishmael.

  9. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Why are we talking about Tea Partiers on an education blog?

    Well, since we are, I will state that I am a Tea Partier.

    Ben F. assumes that Tea Partiers are ignorant. Some may have been ignorant of politics but not of other domains. The local Tea Party I attend has created a lending library of books shared by members. Many of us who where not politically active before are coming up to speed as fast as possible, reading all the way.

    Why people should be vilified for being concerned about spending and debt, I do not understand.

    Ben F., I cordially invite you to attend your local Tea Party. You will find people who are very concerned about the level of spending and debt in the US today. You will find it a very diverse group that does not agree on other issues.

  10. To get back to the original topic…knowledge hasn’t killed our kids’ imaginations, toys have.

    Kids used to play with Legos. They came in about 5 shapes, three colors and four sizes. You built things in a very crude manner and used your imagination. Now Legos come in thousands of shapes, dozens of sizes and a rainbow of colors. They have faces and hands, there is no imagination needed anymore. Our kids watch DvDs instead of imagination. They play console and computer games…no more board games, less imagination.

    All of our media is more explicit than in the past. Everything our kids come into contact with is more concrete and less abstract. The kids never praqctice their imagination anymore, and resent it when they are forced to do so.

  11. HG,

    I’m sorry if I offended you. I know several Tea Partiers and they’re nice people with quite a bit of native intelligence. But unless one has a ROBUST liberal arts education under one’s belt, one is prone to very faulty opinions. Not that I am any paragon of erudition, but having studied the following informs my opinion: lots of Plato, European and Japanese feudalism and the evils of an arrogant aristocracy (a return to which TPs may be unwittingly abetting), the Enlightenment and how Locke, Montesquieu, Paine, Jefferson and others were trying to craft alternatives to feudalism, A Tale of Two Cities, Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education, the history of the Gilded Age and its triggering Progressive Era, the history of worker exploitation in this country and the battles labor has waged to get a forty-hour workweek and other limits to exploitation, the history of the Great Depression, economics (including Keynes). Also I’m pretty well informed about the world in which we live now; I’ve been to horridly “socialist” countries like Denmark and France and have seen the big upsides of big government. I know that America is already on the right-wing fringe of advanced governments in trying to limit government, and yet the TPs want to shrink government more. I’m aware also that by curbing government, sociopathic corporations will fill the void. Corporations will toss ordinary Americans under the bus if it increases their profits; government, for all its faults, does try to promote the general welfare (if our reps haven’t been bought by corporations). The budget should be balanced, I agree, but by increasing taxes on the rich and corporations we can kill three birds with one stone: help the budget, fund beneficial services, and limit the insidious power of the growing aristocracy.

  12. But unless one has a ROBUST liberal arts education under one’s belt, one is prone to very faulty opinions.

    You realize, I hope, that the vast majority of Tea Party folks don’t have this ROBUST liberal arts education. As do the vast majority of non-Tea Party folks.

    Picking on the group you don’t like for not having a property that almost no one has, including the folks on your team, doesn’t set a very high standard for discourse.

    -Mark Roulo

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    Ben F.
    So the folks who voted forr Obama have a robust lib education?
    Or did they vote for him because they have no idea about the signals of and the paths toward centralized, controlling government?

  14. The whole right/left wing crap is nothing more than a meaningless social construct to simplify the various viewpoints of a diverse populace. Rather than voting individually for policy and candidates on their individual views, the labels of right and left allow uninformed and/or unsophisticated voters to respond like a Pavlonian dog.

    Remember, while a generous liberal arts education is part of the path to enlightenment, it in no way guarantees enlightenment. I’ve known plenty of individuals with great educations (on both sides of the aisle) who gave up the privilege of thinking for themselves a long time ago.

    Anyone who makes their decisions based solely upon labels gives the power over their own mind to others who define the labels for them.