Let’s Discontinue History & Geography

Do We Still Need “Memorization” Subjects, Like History and Geography?

I was reading in Scientific American a few months ago that Australia finally started to (smartly) disrupt its educational system and is replacing history and geography in primary school with coding. When I’ve told people about this, most were appalled, most said, “Why can’t they teach coding AS WELL AS history and geography”. To them, my response is, we don’t need to learn history and geography anymore, do we? At this point, we either have a heated discussion or I’m told to leave the room. OK, OK I’m going!

I wonder why this worldview is so far-fetched? I mean, as I said before, we are in an age where the near entirety of humankind’s knowledge is available a few taps or a question to Siri away. We’ve had over 8 years of immediate, intimate access to most of the world’s information, wherever we are, whenever we need it. Like it or not, we are already cyborgs – we’re already lost without our smartphones. How long before we realize that we no longer need to fill our heads with information we don’t really need to? If all of this information is available exactly when we need it, why do we need to memorize it in class? Why not just say it: the ability for humans to be connected to the internet and to tap that knowledge at any moment, is now part of what makes us human. That we have officially evolved ourselves into a new kind of human. Maybe not quite Homo Nexus just yet, but we are getting there.

If we simply acknowledge that thisĀ is never going to go away – that the instant, always connected access to the world’s information will always be available at a moments notice – then think of all that will change. I applaud Australia for realizing that this thing – our always-on connection to the giant corpus of human knowledge – is now a part of us – and that educators should just focus on those things that cannot be learned by a simple lookup.

That includes coding – which is really an interesting combination of problem-solving (as far as I am concerned, maybe the only skill you ever need to have, since all skills stem from that) and learning a new language (some might argue that learning an actual language is a lot harder, but have not seen JavaScript lately – why do all these popular languages have to be so strict when it comes to syntax? – this is why I love Ruby)

I can hear the voices now! “I understand maybe not teaching geography, but history! If we don’t know y, aren’t we doomed to repeat it? How can we form any kind of world view or understand ourselves without an understanding of y?” Fair enough, we might need some history – but not forced on us via the rote teaching methods we use today. Learning history should be student driven – let them read and learn. Besides, it already feels like people have forgotten anything that ever happened more than 8 years ago (maybe 2016 should really be labeled 8 AS – After Smartphone).

It’s not just education. If we are to truly realize the next wave of innovative new products and services, we have to realize that we are all moving towards Homo Nexus. If we are all now able to access any bit of information anytime, Matrix-like, think of everything that will change: the job interview, the exam, the sale, the app. When you did you last job interview, did you let the prospective employee surf the web for answers during the interview? No, but he would be able to on the job, right? What about the last exam you wrote? Did they let you use your smartphone to look up the answers? I’ll bet not. There are two examples of things which will need to change once we truly realize that we will never be disconnected, ever again.

How will your business change? How will you cope when your customers can look up your competitor’s products immediately? How will you cope when your prospects know more about your company than you do?