Idiot’s Delight

by Robert Pondiscio
September 26th, 2010

Think anti-intellectualism in American education not a problem?  Submitted for your disapproval:  “There is nothing like knowing it all to kill the imagination,” write Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon:

“When we become expert, or think we have, we get the benefits of intellectual shortcuts and far greater processing efficiency-but we suffer the cost of closed-mindedness.  Having seen it all, we stop looking. Having been there, we stop going. Having done that, we stop doing.”

Seriously?  What possible basis in fact could there be for this broad, blanket condemnation of knowledge, which appears, incredibly enough, on the front page of NBC’s Education Nation website?  The authors ostensibly want us to rekindle our childlike sense of wonder and imagination.  They wax rhapsodic about something called the GeoDome.

Maybe fifteen feet across, eight feet high at the peak. As portable as a tent, as immersive as a womb. Step into the darkness, feel your way to a little canvas camping chair, be seated and gaze upward. Here begins an experience of pure wonder. Using Google Earth, real-time NASA data, state-of-the-art animation designed by a Pixar veteran, a single laptop, a projector, and an Xbox joystick, McConville takes the guests on a journey to…anywhere they want in the known universe.

I hate to muddy up the pie-eyed wonder-fest with troublesome facts, but we did not dream our way to Google Earth, NASA, Pixar or the Xbox.  A deep knowledge base, years of training and expertise enable us to create the things that inspire awe in others.   And I can’t help but wonder if physicists, engineers, and scientists of every stripe would be surprised to learn that their hard-earned expertise has resulted in “closed-mindedness.”


  1. Oddly, the guy they are so enthusiastic about is clearly a very knowledgeable expert-type person who has put a lot of work into developing a neat thing so that many people can learn a lot.

    IME the more you learn about a given area of study, the more you realize how much more there is to learn and how amazing and fascinating the subject is. The accomplishments of others become more impressive and awe-inspiring when you understand the kind of knowledge and work that go into them.

    Comment by dangermom — September 26, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  2. I can only say to Liu and Noppe-Brandon, “Speak for yourself. For me, the more I learn, the more thrilled I become.”

    Comment by pinetree — September 26, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

  3. Dee sigh. Here we go again: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Sure, it is, once you have accumulated enough knowledge that you can take it for granted. Once again, a tiny grain of insight is taken for a guiding principle, with potentially disastrous results.

    Comment by Robert Fauceau — September 26, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

  4. Excess knowledge is not a problem for the average American student.

    I’ve been watching Breaking Bad, which finds ways for the chemistry teacher (with PhD) to use his scientific savvy to succeed as a meth dealer. In one scene, the stoner partner, a former D student, runs down the battery of their RV/meth lab and uses all their water to put out a fire he’s started. They’re about to die in the desert till the teacher realizes he can build a battery from spare chemicals. The stoner gives him a look of respect: This guy knows stuff.

    Comment by Joanne Jacobs — September 27, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

  5. [...] asks Robert Pondiscio in Idiot’s Delight on Core Knowledge [...]

    Pingback by Too much knowledge? — Joanne Jacobs — September 27, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  6. The Geo-Dome thing sounds cool, and exactly the sort of thing that the engineers and scientists of my acquaintance would absolutely love. Why are we constantly being bombarded with false dichotomies? It’s not imagination vs. the grunt work of learning the basics- both are necessary.

    Comment by Crimson Wife — September 27, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

  7. Actually I quite agree with the comments made because Eric and I are advocating for the blending of knowledge, fact, data, performance assessment, imaginative thinking, creative action, etc. That said, of course nothing in education stands ahead of the need for students to own and understand the rich content that is the essence of all disciplines. But is that enough? Does it alone prepare students, all students for the challenges of 21st Century work,life and play. I am comforted by knowing that support for my viewpoint flows from professionals across sectors, political divisions, and ideologies. Scientists, engineers, business leaders, youth development experts, national security experts,educators, etc all agree that we must foster imaginative thinking and creative actions within the rigorous study of content knowledge if we are to reach the goal of innovative results.

    Hope you get a chance to read Imagination First. I work daily and tirelessly to avoid getting stuck in “belief” silos and continue to think first about what students need. I agree that core knowledge is fundamental to learning and know that it is not challenged or demeaned by Making Way for Awe or other practices presented in Imagination First. If anything it is enhanced. Thanks.

    Comment by Scott Noppe-Brandon — October 23, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

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