“Most adults recall memorizing the names of rivers or the Pythagorean theorem in school and wondering, “When am I ever gonna use this stuff?” Kids today have a high-profile spokesman. Jonathan Rochelle, the director of Google’s education apps group, said last year at an industry conference that he “cannot answer” why his children should learn the quadratic equation. He wonders why they cannot “ask Google.” If Mr. Rochelle cannot answer his children, I can.
Google is good at finding information, but the brain beats it in two essential ways. Champions of Google underestimate how much the meaning of words and sentences changes with context. Consider vocabulary. Every teacher knows that a sixth grader, armed with a thesaurus, will often submit a paper studded with words used in not-quite-correct ways, like the student who looked up “meticulous,” saw it meant “very careful,” and wrote “I was meticulous when I fell off the cliff.””