In one ear and out the other


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.

Let’s be smart


Do we still need professional critics?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. January 6, 2015

What makes one person’s opinions more valuable than another? Why should some people get paid for their thoughts on entertainment, economics, and world news when other people can barely get an audience? In a world where everybody is shouting aimlessly, professional critics or critics with  credible reputations should be appreciated more than ever, right?

The thing is, the idea of an expert doesn’t materialize overnight. Although anyone can claim to be an expert and a critic, it takes a gifted person to add insight and not just spew jargon. Anybody can flip through a dictionary and find sophisticated words to describe the refined, yet robust taste of a bottle of wine. But that is just a façade. Anyone can hide behind a keyboard and type up their thoughts on any given subject and some points will undoubtedly hit a mark; anyone can do what I’m doing right now. Being an expert and a critic is no longer about judging, it’s about communicating. Experts who can express their ideas in a clear and intelligent fashion will be quoted, and the quotes are what make professional critics necessary.

A good critic does more than just critique a project or a topic; their work itself is an art form. Just take a look at the late-great Roger Ebert; he could present painful truths in an entertaining, witty manner. Ebert wrote in a review of 2009 failed comedy Old Dogs starring Robin Williams and John Travolta: “Old Dogs seems to have lingered in post-production while editors struggled desperately to inject laugh cues. It obviously knows no one will find it funny without being ordered to. How else to explain reaction shots of a dog responding to laugh lines?” Such an observation is commonly lost by amateurs or delivered in bad taste.

Few dream of becoming critics or experts as children. It’s hard to imagine a life judging stuff professionally or being called upon to comment on a specific area of interest. But if we live in a world where a social worker is a legitimate job title, then yes, professional critics should be as well. Because what they do is more than just researching, wasting time on a subject, or simply watching movies, they are summarizing sometimes complicated, sometimes idiotic ideas to us. And those deemed worthy of the job should be revered but also challenged. After all, experts are not always right.

We should all aim to be professional critics and experts. Although some have the fortune to be paid to spew their thoughts, we must remember that the reason why they are compensated for their words is because people are ready to listen. What makes people listen to you? What do people ask you about? Perhaps you can monetize that as well.