There is a definite pendulum at play in education: the tension between the need to KNOW things about our world (which has been central to human existence for many thousands of years) and the need to create, design, problem-solve, and improve the cooperative lot of humanity (which has a similarly long pedigree in humanity).
Formal, scholarly education must, in my opinion, help develop and nurture BOTH the fact-finding, knowledge gathering side AND the creative, exploratory side. Unfortunately, formal, scholarly education today and even in my youth largely FAILS to adequately address the latter.
As you’ve pointed out, Dave, facts and history and knowledge are critically important as the primordial soup from which new ideas emerge. You can’t stand on the shoulders of giants if you don’t know the giants are there and available to be climbed upon. The internet HAS changed the game because it essentially gives us access to a giant BRAIN.
There will always be a role for teachers in every society, but their role HAS to integrate and cannot be isolated. In a hunter-gatherer or agricultural society, I can’t teach you what you need to know from a book – I have to SHOW you – so we have apprenticeships. I can teach you a bit more “by the book” in an industrial society, so a dichotomy starts to really develop between classroom teachers and on-the-job mentors.
Now we have COMPLETELY compartmentalized fact learning from experiential learning, and thereby sterilized and neutered the process of fact learning. Much of what teachers have traditionally been expected to impart, in a society where information was essential but hard to get, is NOW available 24/7 within the giant’s brain called the internet, to which more and more people have access.
I actually believe that formal institutionalized education is going to become LESS important in the coming decade. The institution of “school” is NOT changing as rapidly as society, so the value of “school” is declining while the value of education continues to skyrocket. I actually believe that by the time my kids – 4th and 6th grade now – are ready for “higher education,” it may not make financial or practical sense for at least one of them. I believe it MAY make sense to guide them to find balance in their education OUTSIDE of the outdated and antiquated structure which now exists.