When Knowledge Is Unforgettable

Reblogged from The Atlantic

Adults remember more of what they learned in school than they think they do—thanks to an aspect of education that doesn’t get much attention in policy debates.

I recently found a box of papers from high school and was shocked to see what I once knew. There, in my handwriting, was a multi-step geometric proof, a creditable essay on the United States’ involvement in the Philippine revolution, and other work that today is as incomprehensible to me as a Swedish newscast.

Chances are this is a common experience among adults like me who haven’t stepped foot in the classroom for ages—which might suggest there wasn’t much point in learning the stuff in the first place. But then again, maybe there is.

Research shows that people can often retain certain information long after they learned it in school. For example, in one 1998 study, 1,168 adults took an exam in developmental psychology, similar to the final exam they had taken for a college course between three and 16 years earlier. Yes, much had been forgotten, especially within the first three years of taking the course—but not everything. The study found that even after 16 years, participants had retained some knowledge from the college course, particularly facts (versus the application of mental skills)…

These findings, among others, indicate that students forget less than they may think they do. And there’s value in what they remember. These conclusions carry important implications for the subject matter students study in school.

…More striking, though, is that continued use can actually make knowledge indelible…

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