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The Empty Future Brain

I finally tossed my college biology notebooks. Granted, I didn’t go to college after high school. I started after my youngest child entered preschool. But still, I haven’t opened those books in many, many years. Thumbing through the mega-binders of my own handwritten notes, I was impressed with how much I once knew. They were full of information and diagrams on cell structure and animal and plant life.

I received straight “A’s,” so I must have known the material at one time, “at one time” being key words. Most of the information in my notes is now totally unfamiliar to me. I wonder if it is all buried deep in my brain or completely vanished. How disappointing to recall so little of it.

In the 1970s comedian Don Novello played a character named Father Guido Sarducci on Saturday Night Live. He did a bit titled, “The Five Minute University.” He said that the average college graduate remembers about five minutes of information after five years of graduating, so that is all he teaches. His school is an alternative to spending tens of thousands of dollars in tuition on a wasted education that we will never recall or use. For $20 Father Sarducci provides the classes, a cap, gown, snacks, and photo. He even includes an Easter vacation where he turns on a  sun lamp and offers students a glass of orange juice. You can see this humorous take on college education in its entirety on YouTube.

To some extent, Father Sarducci is correct. We memorize so much information for tests and then quickly forget it. My father used to say that it was more important to know how to gather information than to retain it. Knowing where to go for the most current data is all that is required.

That statement is truer today than ever. With all of our technological tools we don’t need to remember much these days. All we have to do is use a calculator or search the Internet for the right people and sources to instantly get our answers.

I wonder if this ability is changing, or will change, the educational approach. If so, the empty brain of the future will have plenty of room for the gentleness and beauty of the arts and other understandings we lack as a society such as ethics, justice, and morality.

©2013, Mary K. Doyle

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