I just discovered Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (Nobel Prize in Medicine, 1937). I needed to share a few quotes from an article he wrote in 1964. He was brilliant in more ways than one.
Teaching and the Expanding Knowledge (from Science, vol. 146, 3649, Dec. 4, 1964, pp 1278-1279)
"There is a widely spread misconception about the nature of books which contain knowledge. It is thought that such books are something the contents of which have to be crammed into our heads. I think the opposite is closer to the truth. Books are there to keep the knowledge in while we use our heads for something better. Books may also be a better place for such knowledge. In my own head any book-knowledge has a half-life of a few weeks. So I leave knowledge, for safe-keeping, to books and libraries and go fishing, sometimes for fish, sometimes for new knowledge."
"So what the school has to do, in the first place, is to make us learn how to learn, to whet our appetites for knowledge, to teach us the delight of doing a job well and the excitement of creativity, to teach us to love what we do, and to help us to find what we love to do.
My friend Gerard quoted Fouchet as advising us to take from the altar of knowledge the fire, not the ashes. Being of more earthly disposition, I would advise you to take the meat, not the bones. Teachers, on the whole, have a remarkable preference for bones, especially dry ones. Of course, bones are important, and now and then we all like to suck a bit on them, but only after having eaten the meat. What I mean to say is that we must not learn things, we must live things. This is true for almost everything. Shakespeare and all of literature must be lived, music, paintings, and sculptures have to be made, drama has to be acted. This is true even for history: we should live through it, through the spirit of the various periods, instead of storing their data. I am glad to say that this trend—to live things—is becoming evident even in the teaching of sciences. The most recent trend is not to teach the simpler laws of nature, but to make our students discover them for themselves in simple experiments."
"It is a widely spread opinion that memorizing will not hurt, that knowledge does no harm. I am afraid it may. Dead knowledge dulls the spirit, fills the stomach without nourishing the body. The mind is not a bottomless pit, and if we put in one thing we might have to leave out another. By a more live teaching we can fill the soul and reserve the mind for the really important things. We may even spare time we need for expanding subjects."
"By teaching live arts and science, the schools could open up the endless horizons and challenges of intellectual and artistic life and make whole life an exciting adventure. I believe that in our teaching not only must details and generalizations be in balance, but our whole teaching must be balanced with general human values."
"In spite of its many chapters, our teaching has, essentially, but one object, the production of men (and women) who can fill their shoes and stand erect with their eyes on the wider horizons. This makes the school, on any level, into the most important public institution and the teacher into the most important public figure.
As we teach today, so the morrow will be."