Is there a place for memorizing content? Should everything be learned through inquiry? Here are some quotes from a discussion board responding to the article "Ray Kurzweil: Memorization is For Robots. People Learn By Doing." By Jason Gots, Published: December 18, 2012 - bigthink.com.
There is a LOT of evidence that both "back to basics" AND project based learning are important. The first time I encountered this fact was when I was studying applied arts the FIRST time I went through College/University. I had a professor say "Eventually, you need to master the basics before you can master ANY art," (and he would have included the Scientific Arts as well) "and it is through DOING that we master those basics. Practice, practice, practice; sometimes memorization of things that we know that our conscious mind will later forget. And ALWAYS, at each step, we must have a project, to which we are applying the basics, to see where we still have weaknesses in our understanding, and where we stand out as having an understanding of that foundation."
And then he said the thing that changed me forever. He said:
"You always seem to be wanting to break the rules. But... How will you know THAT you have broken the rules, if you do not know what the rules are. Some rules cannot be explained to you. You must learn them by doing the hard work of failing to learn them, over-and-over again, until suddenly, you will realize that you understand the rule."
The role of the teacher is IN PART to dispense information; particularly information about context. That is, the teacher needs to put the assorted factoids that the students acquire into a meaningful context of related information, historical trends second and third order effects, and the like. Agreed, that is all in the service getting the students to learn to figure stuff out - but it's a specific function that the teacher can perform apart from what a well-prepared autodidact can easily figure out for him/herself. It has to be performed gently, not obtrusively. It need not be necessarily done in person, although that is probably most efficient; a well-designed curriculum can gradually prompt students in the most useful directions. And a good teacher is always alert to the possibility that the student has found a connection not previously identified by the teacher; willingness to entertain the possibility of learning from the students is integral to good teaching. I would love to see how Kurzweil and his colleagues address the question of the acquisition of appropriate context for learning.
May I put the dyslexic view here? Dyslexics are by nature inquisitive problem solvers but many have a poor ability to memorize which in turn makes them natural experimenters - every piece of flat pack Ikea furniture is assembled in a different hacking-style and constantly iterative way. Against that, as building blocks of a basic education, repetition is an essential process in its own right within which to build parameters of cognition and comprehension. At some stage even the most insightful project based critical thinking needs to be crystallized and documented in order to be communicated and so that, in the absence of memorization, the progress and the route to it is not forgotten.