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HELP ME! I CAN'T STOP SHOVELING FACTS!

Stephen L. Talbott

There's an invisible plaque hanging on the wall of most classrooms across America. It displays what we might call the Educationist's Motto, which runs like this:

If you take care of the flow of information, the education will take care of itself.
Not that many educators would consciously buy into this formula. After all, managing the flow of bits of information into a database looks uncomfortably like a fact-shoveling style of education, and everyone seems to agree that we must abhor thinking of the student as a passive receptacle for facts. And yet, surely there is a reason why the computer and its databases now provide our culture's dominant metaphor for the acquisition of knowledge.

What is the information now being universally celebrated, if not a collection of facts -- things that can be captured and recorded? It is the very nature of the fact to be finished, wholly defined, given in its entirety. A fact leaves no room for the knower's participation. Our capacities, except as receptacles, are irrelevant. Time and again I've heard the same teachers who supposedly deplore fact shoveling grow positively rhapsodic about the information their students can gather from CD-ROMs or the Net -- this despite the fact that the ava