In one ear and out the other

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A significant percentage of adults have forgotten elementary school lessons, but does it matter?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 17, 2016

A recent survey conducted by YouGov revealed something worrisome: grown-ups have forgotten basic lessons in math, English, and science. One in five adults in the study admitted to having trouble with calculating fractions and percentages. About a quarter of adults cannot recall how to use a semi-colon in a sentence or the names of all the planets within the solar system.

Now, it might seem embarrassing for an adult to forget about lessons they spent so many hours studying in their youth. But that type of knowledge is now trivial. We live in a wonderful age where we are as smart as our phones. We calculate our bills with them, we end arguments with them, and we can easily relearn all that was taught to us in elementary school via watching YouTube on them.

The ability to remember everything taught to us is not necessary a product of smarts, but rather the product of skilled memory. We remember what’s important for us. While we are able to train our memories like we are able to train our bodies, many of us have more important things to deal with.

Remember when you were young and you memorized all 150 (at the time) Pokémon? Try recalling them now. We remember what is important to us. If we enjoy sports, we’ll remember names of athletes. If we like video games, we’ll train our fingers to remember combinations. If we like history, we’ll remember specific moments and characters from the past. We choose what to remember.

Adults who have forgotten about math, English, and science lessons aren’t stupid. They’ve been putting their cognitive energy into other things in their lives that require it. They don’t have time to sit down and review their elementary school lessons once a week. Nobody is going to randomly do long division if they don’t have to.

But should they? Sure they should. Everybody should be confident with math, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to be proficient in everything.

Elementary education is the basic foundation for lessons in the rest of our lives, but now that we are older we can happily decide what we need to know. And luckily, we are living in an age where if we do want to learn something or review something, we can do it with a few clicks. Intelligence is not the ability to memorize everything. Intelligence is the ability to find the answer when it is needed.

Adults today are different from the adults of the past. We can store our knowledge in the cloud and pull it down when it is needed. This gives us more room in our brain to think about other things.

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