Can anyone seriously tell me why you need to know that Frankfort is the capital of Kentucky? Seriously? Assuming you don’t live and vote in Kentucky, then I honestly see no need to know that. If I moved to Kentucky (no offense, Kentuckians, but let’s hope I don’t), then I would need to find that out, just like I would need to find out all kinds of things about life in Kentucky – its major grocery store chains, its homeschool laws, its tax code. Stuff I have zero need for now.
To me, having kids memorize the state capitals epitomizes the memorization of useless information.
I think for many people, the fact that many kids no longer have to do it epitomizes the exact opposite of my sentiment – that standards of knowledge are dropping in our school system. The thing is, I don’t disagree with that. The amount of knowledge (especially geography, but in other arenas as well) that kids are actually required to know seems to be decreasing. Not that Americans have ever aced geography tests, but it does seem like our knowledge is ever more abysmal.
For me though, asking kids to memorize a set list of state capitals doesn’t even begin to address that problem. If anything, it works against it because it’s such a small, static piece of data, one that gives people the impression that they know the most important facts when they don’t at all. Geography is much bigger than that. I’d much rather my kids know which cities are important, and why (their size, their political importance, their industries). I’d rather they know the states and their relationship to one another on the map. I’d rather they know by instinct what region and continent a country is in, what religions people practice there, what political system they have. I’d rather they have enough context about the world and the country generally so that when the news tells us about hurricanes or wars, they know enough background geography to easily find and understand the information.
This is the problem I see when people come in and want to do away with outdated skills. Knowing the state capitals in an internet age is an outdated skill. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you throw out all of geography with it because kids can “look it up online.” Some pieces of information are things we need to have at the ready in our minds, more accessible than a computer makes it. Obviously there are skills kids need to have, but there’s information too. When I think about the information my kids need, I’m always trying to ask myself this question and distinguish between what’s useful and what’s useless.
Hey, look, Frankfort may be useless to know about, but it looks kinda pretty: