OMAET Book Notes – The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith

Chapter 1: A Tale of Two Visions


The following are notes that I wrote as part of a class assignment for a class in Mentoring. Enjoy.

Preface: “The fact that making an effort is an inefficient way to learn—and an almost certain way to forget—comes as a surprise to many people. They have been taught that learning demands hard work, serious motivation, and focused concentration. They may even have been taught that they shouldn’t expect very much success in learning, no matter how hard they try.” p. vii

“I also recount some of the damage and injustices caused at all levels of education, not only by the official view that learning requires work—so that failure to lear can be attributed to laziness—but by the intrusive mass of unnecessary external controls in which teaching and and learning have embedded, including testing, grading, and contrived competitiveness.” p. vii

“When some people complain that students don’t learn very much in school and blame lack of ability or effort on the part of the students or their teachers, what kind of learning are they talking about? Why do they focus so much on what students fail to learn, rather than on what they are learning in its place, which may have much more significance in the students’ lives?” p.1

The classical view of learning and forgetting . . . “is classic because it is archetypal, universal, deeply rooted, and uncontaminated. It says, very simply, that we learn from people around us with whom we identify. We can’t help learning from them, and we learn without knowing that we are learning.” p. 3

“The official theory that learning is simply a question of effort is so endemic that it is widely regarded as unchallengeable, natural, and time-honored, a matter of “getting back to basics.” But the official view is none of these; it is relatively recent and totally artificial, a theory contrived solely for purposes of control, first in experimental laboratories, then in classrooms.” p. 4

Perhaps the emergence of the “official view” and decline of the “classical” view has something to do with the diminishing social status of the educator in our society. Learning as a function of learning from someone versus merely learning “something” puts a great deal of importance in the “someone.” It might be that social changes since industrialization and a less community focus of our society makes the persons who are teachers less important that the subjects that are being taught. And so the only way to safely “continue” the educational tradition is to “drone-ify” teachers and make it all a of passing on a specific body of data.


The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith

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