From science-focused college undergraduates I have heard the same repetitive criticism of coursework, "All I do is memorize facts!"
Are we in fact making a generation of fact-regurgitators, people who could slay on Jeopardy but can't function as real scientists? Or is there some other reason for this fact-memorizing methodology?
Science education is a knowledge pipeline and you need to learn the basic fundamentals before you move to the next level. Well... perhaps it's a ladder rather than a pipeline. Or maybe it's all one gigantic and challenging test to push you to your limits. After all, to get the highest academic position in any program, you have to be the best of the best and prove yourself worthy. We wouldn't want doctors who don't know fundamentals like anatomy, right? Why would we want a scientist who doesn't know the basic concepts science is built upon, like the scientific method and other basic science facts?
Science is an intellectual activity and you need to master the fundamentals of science and those are facts. As a science-focused college undergraduate you also need to pick your science path... so you take all kinds of science classes to figure it out. From physics to chemistry to biology... you are forced to cast your net wide!
The earlier you focus, the more you could potentially funnel yourself into more advanced (and less fact-oriented) work. This kind of work is skill oriented, where you apply your facts and your proven perseverance to do real science. You can't just skip to this level! [You don't want to skip to this level!]
I think of it like this:
To get towards the top of the science ladder, you must master the core, fundamental knowledge rather than the skills.
Skills you learn later under the tutelage of a science sensei!
Once you have mastered the facts and some skills during research credits, you may graduate to working on your own. This may be a job, a Master's degree which you work with another sensei and hone yet more skills, or a PhD which is a more advanced form of tutelage with a bit more freedom [i.e. risk of failure].
Once you have mastered advanced science skills through a Master's or PhD, you may challenge your sensei for the final test: The Defense! This is not recommended for those holding down jobs...
Once you've finally proven yourself worthy during the defense, you can move on to doing science on your own! With the facts and skills you've learned along the pipeline/ladder, you can take on the world!