Not two things one usually associates with the other.
As a biologist, I have a confession: I hate the fucking Krebs cycle. As cycles go, it’s not bad, but still… I learned it twice in high school, once in college (I placed out of Intro Bio, otherwise I would have had it twice there too), once in graduate school, then I taught the fucker. And, as the Intelligent Designer is my witness, I have never had to use it. I even spent time in a lab that did metabolic flux theory, and, nope, didn’t use it (the pentose phosphate shunt on the other hand… But I digress). Despite all of that repetition, I certainly couldn’t reproduce it for you.
The problem has been that I never once saw it taught as anything other than a collection of facts (and I’m not the only one who thinks this). The biological significance of the Krebs cycle–why it’s interesting–is never taught. Instead, it’s a collection of facts you have to cram into your head.
Cram being the operative word. In high school, you have to learn it to pass various tests, including the AP exam, and in college, most of the time it’s taught as part of the pre-med curriculum, which means what you learn is defined by what the MCAT wants you to regurgitate (hint: it’s not an overarching theoretical view of cellular metabolism).
One reason, though not the only one, that I hate high-stakes educational testing is that I’ve seen what bad incentives (Got Campbell’s Law?) do personally. When the incentives are to teach to a test, the higher-level things–the stuff that really matters–gets lost.
And learning, as opposed to ‘student achievement’, suffers for it.