Monday, April 16, 2012


I often say facts are irrelevant. My wife (who taught school for over 30 years) always argues with me when I say that. I mean it, however. Facts are often disputed, even things we consider as facts.

I remember sitting next to a member of the New Jersey State Board of Education just before I was to give a speech. He was beaming with pride when he told me that finally the Board was insisting that kids learn important historical facts such as when the Civil War started. I was rather surprised and asked him when that was - when the first shot was fired on American soldiers by rebels?; when slavery was introduced into the United States?; when the North freed itself from the economic need for slaves and began to try and force the agrarian South to end slavery?; when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation?; when the first seven rebelling states declared they were no longer part of the Union but instead had formed The Confederate States of America? You can make an argument for all of these "dates." And it is totally unimportant, I think, to have to know them. Instead it is important to want to answer the question; to know how to gather information that might result in an answer; to know how to gather evidence necessary to answer the question; to sort thorough the evidence to reach a tentative conclusion or conclusions; and then to clarify the question and ask new questions in order to start this process all over again.

Many students tell me "It is easy to find someone's opinion about a topic on the internet but finding the actual facts isn't as easy." Correct. In fact we should be as skeptical of "facts" as of opinions. It is the thinking process that I see as critical for an educated person. If we merely dispense "facts" - our facts - then we fail as educators. If we only test for facts, we are doing our students a great disservice. We probably should not test for a knowledge of "facts" at all!