Dec2016, Opinion&Letters
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In Defense of a Low Fact Education

Here it goes: we have some wild and contradictory expectations of our own education.

Let’s examine this claim. Let’s imagine we reunite with a friend who attends UBC and decide to engage in a “fact-quiz.” There is one rule to this game: whoever has acquired more facts in the past semester wins.

You begin and say that you learned the principle of conservation of energy. Oh, and you took field trips to a solar-panel construction site.

Oh my, your UBC counterpart says. I think we learned that principle in high-school. Tell me what you know about Planck’s constant and how it … (does so and so in so and so equation)

Hm, you say, I don’t know that specific constant but I can look it up!

Stop there. Rewind. What do you mean when you say you can “Look it up?” they ask. That doesn’t count!

In your friend’s perspective, if you don’t know the constant on the spot, then you might as well have never known it. So: your friend wins the fact championships.

Now, as a Questie, you can respond to this loss in two different ways. (1) You can feel cheated by the lack of fact sheets and memorizing at Quest. Or, (2) you can look at your friend’s ‘victory’ and promise yourself to never believe that an accumulation of facts amounts to an education.

Consider any concept that you come across in your academic life—for example, the principle of the conservation of energy. Now, how many homework problems do you need to do to understand this principle? 2 … 10 … 33? But what if no amount of homework problems will help you get it. Are there other options? What if you used the principle to try to find a way to measure the voltage across your cell-phone? What if you asked your tutor and/or peers better questions about the principle? What if you came up with your own principle-related problems to solve?

I believe that these three ‘unconventional’ and ‘unstandardized’ methods of learning are the kinds of things that drew us to Quest. We did not sign up for facts, and we did not sign up for lectures. Nonetheless, I think we sometimes expect the results of the lecture hall experience. That is, we want to know things off-hand. We want to impress our friends with our allusions to—and command of—complicated theories and texts. We want to ‘have knowledge,’ as though it were material. Yet, we also want an education that is about learning to learn, rather than knowing, per se. We want an individualized, self-directed learning process. We want to develop a set of thinking tools. Wanting both of these is what I would call a wild and contradictory expectation.

Now, maybe I am dead wrong. Maybe your educational expectations perfectly conform with the reality of what you can—and cannot—get here. But, if I am in fact onto something and you find yourself wanting to have your (educational) cake and eat it too, then it might be time to take pause and reevaluate why you chose to come here.

The Quest education is not perfect. Tutors are not perfect. Your fellow students are not perfect. But, whether or not we always manage to pull off the Quest pedagogy, I think we are onto something here. I think we are engaged in an educational project that is worthwhile, that is worth giving ‘facts’ up for.  

Our insecure academic egos like to know facts. Facts make us feel like we ‘have,’ or ‘have gotten,’ an education. We like to know Planck’s constant suggests that the work—the work of learning—is done.

But folks: It is never done ! ! ! ! ! Even when you know all the facts ever ! ! ! !

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