In Praise of Forgetting

In Praise of Forgetting

As we enter into the summer ambitious and obviously well-meaning parents are eager to continue learning through the summer. I would suggest you don’t. In the first place, children are always learning anyway. Learning is a basic biological function, so unless their unconscious, they are learning.

And herein lies the rub and why it is we forget. Fact is we learn too much. Everything you experience is stored at least momentarily in the brain. But the brain isn’t merely a storage system. The brain is (among other things) a set of neurons that let you model the outside world inside your head. And that’s handy because then you can predict future experiences, find your way around, and understand how things around you affect you. That model is your real knowledge.

A good example might be if you have a park or green space near your house and you often walk there. You know the trails and where they lead. You know which one is faster and how they are different. You have actually seen a lot more, but you’ve forgotten, and this is the key. If you want to learn to navigate the park, that is to know it, you’ll need to do a lot of forgetting.

The way your brain makes that model of the world as follows. First, a lot of information goes in. Think of all that information as a dark haze. Some of the information comes up more than once, so the haze is darker in some places than others. Do this five, ten or a hundred times. Outlines start to appear in the haze. Then, mostly as you sleep, and especially while you dream, the light areas get erased and the dark areas get connected. Think of it like brushing pencil all over a paper and then drawing with the eraser. The brain also tends to erase things that it can’t make part of the picture. What emerges is a picture of the world. We see a forest and a trail instead of tree branches and rocks. We have made all that sensory experience meaningful, and we have done it by forgetting.

Have you ever thought about what a story is? At first, all we know is the events 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. But then we look for what connects the events. Like a game of Mousetrap, we find out that 1, 2, and 4 are connected, but there’s no way to connect 3. And so, we tell a story about 1 met 2 and then there were 4. What shall we do with three? Oh, forget it, that’s what. Stories are particularly important in helping us remember and forget. The stories we tell ourselves make us the people we become.

So, there you have it. Your brain needs to forget in order to make what you have learned truly meaningful, or what we might call common sense. If someone is truly educated their common sense actually works for them. What you learn becomes common sense as you put it to use in your daily life. Never learn for grades, or to please someone else. Learn because by doing it you become a stronger person. Don’t be afraid to forget what doesn’t mean anything. If it’s important, it will come back to you.

So go ahead, take the summer off, and forget boldly.

Dates and Resources

If you're back next year

It's wise to have a few things prepared for next fall. A few resource materials for Language Arts, Math, Social Studies and Science are all you need. I recommend having about two months worth of those resources in place for September.  During the summer you have some lead time, it's a great time to master the HCOS Learning Commons Library. It's a great way to save a lot of money. I highly recommend any Unit Studies they have that might interest you. It's a great way to start the year.

Also, summer is a good time to think of your routines for next September. Routines can make all the difference in how well children learn. Discuss the routines together, what they will be, why they are important. Time-on-task and attention span are worthy goals. Routines can help children own their own learning. What could be better than that?

Purchasing Department shutdown: May 15  to July 1 (This means no special orders-- the ones that go through Purchasing. You can still use your 2019-2020 Purchase Order number directly with vendors who take HCOS Purchase Orders.) 

Dates and Links:  

June 7 Deadline for new work samples.

June 24 Report Cards are complete and available.

June 26 Rob goes to Germany

You may be interested in my recommended resources page. I only add to these resources when I see a learner has done well using it within the BC curriculum. I hope to add a few more links this year.

 Rob Wahl recommended resources