Obsolete knowledge – The Agenda Feb. 9 2015

GE, Steve (Paikin).

Excellent program tonight, as so often.

Don Tapscott repeated a dangerous half-truth to the effect that “Half of what a student learned in first year is obsolete by his graduation year”

Well, yes, partly true. I can give you the power handling characteristics of a 6AG7 vacuum tube, which no one uses any more. I am an electronics engineer, but most of the modern electronics field is far beyond me: I graduated in 1951! “The transistor is just a lab curiosity,” pontificated one magazine article of the time. This paper is being saved on a solid state chip the size of my thumb and 2 mm. thick whose trillions of transistors can handle gigs and gigs of data.


Years later, my boss and I were discussing a production problem in a heavy machinery manufacturing plant (Westinghouse Canada Hamilton). “You know, Charlie,” I said, “After all, everything that comes into this plant goes out, either as saleable product or waste.” Charlie thought for a moment and then replied, “That’s Kirchoff’s Law for a factory!” Which it is. Every electron that arrives at any point in a circuit also leaves it. Kirchoff’s Law is an important analytical and circuit design tool, was then, is now, and every shall be, world without end, amen. But no one asks about the 6AG7.

Extrapolating this only a little, one can say that a major job of of education, from JK to postgrad, is finding the balance between adequately equipping students with the 10^n “basics” they must never forget, and enough of today’s technology that they at least have a jumping-off place from which to run the pitiless marathon of endless, increasingly rapid, change.

What educators must not do (and which too many do) is recklessly to extrapolate this to a license to be lazy and dismissive about fundamentals like grammar and elementary math.


Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng.,
2252 Joyce St.,
Burlington, ON L7R 2B5
905 634 9538


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