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We have a testing culture in America, but the sad truth is that even AP courses are primarily directed towards students being able to recall knowledge, not make active use of it.
Bloom's taxonomy is useful here. Most student never move beyond the idea that learning means being able to recite what they've learned. That's even the way that AP (Advanced Placement, basically knowledge tests that allow a student to be placed in a higher level college course, based upon what they've learned in high school)function.
The whole idea of a liberal arts education is that by progressing towards those higher level skills (applying and analyzing) that you essentially teach students how to make use of new knowledge. Maybe trying to illustrate this with an example helps.
Imagine a level. Like the tool. At the most basic level, you teach students what a level looks like. Metal box. Little tube in the center with two lines, and a bubble in the middle. This is simple knowledge, not comprehension.
You can know what a level look like, and have no idea what the hell it does. Comprehension means that you can tell me what a level does, but you still don't know how to actually use it. That's a matter of applying the knowledge that you have. Bubble between lines means that a surface is flat. You can use the level. You can now use this tool.
Beyond this lies analysis. Because you know that this bubble tells you that a surface is flat, you can fix the tool if the fluid leaks out of the tube. You can repair the tool, and you're getting a grasp of the principles at work here. Gravity, relative density, and such.
At the highest level, you can actually make a new level, because you've mastered all the principles needed.
The idea of a liberal arts education is that you learn about topics in a given field, and it is the ability to learn that is the actual skill you pick up.
This a lot easier to explain in person......
And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg
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