Thursday, April 19, 2012

Another pointless education debate

I saw an article at http://www.slate.com/ about the impact on technology in our schools.

The article, approached the issue mostly from a "will it be good for our schools/kids and will it lower costs?  The column ran in "Future Tense," and so this administrative and technology point of view makes some sense.  However, it makes almost no sense for the majority of readers, Moms and Dads, or anyone who cares about children's education.

That is because technology, whether in the form of computers or the internet or e-books or whatever is next, is only a tool.  All the e-books and internet access in the world won't change a thing in the majority of U.S. schools.  Most students already have internet access in one form or another, whether at home, on their phones or at a library or school.

Further, access to the wide-range of information available on the internet will not help students in any appreciable way.  In reality, students already have access to all of the "learning" their parents had to do in school.

In today's world it is counterproductive to teach kids to memorize presidents in order or to be able to list all the states alphabetically.  That type of information may have at one time been important and necassary when finding it required an individual to determine the proper resource for such information, find that resource, and then look up the actual information.

In today's world kids Google it and its done.  Ninth president: William Henry Harrison.  Found almost as quickly with Google as if I had it memorized.  But more importantly, with the time to recall that information equal between Google and memorization, what would memorizing it have gained me?  When will the relevance of the ninth president come into play except perhaps at a bar trivia game?  Worse still, having memorized it almost gaurantees that some other bit of information is left out in the cold.  Something important perhaps, like where I left my keys (I know, I know, long-term/short-term memory... yadada; the point stands).

Today's world drastically unlike anything today's Moms and Dads grew up with.  Information is readily available and willing to give itself up.  Most if not all of the facts, figures and information that was locked up in the textbooks we read growing up are available for free online.  In fact, there is so much of it available - a Google search for "ninth U.S. president" returns 10.8 million results - that teaching our children to handle, parse and interpret that much information regarding the ninth president is much more important than actually being able to recall who the ninth president was.

In reality, we shouldn't be worrying about whether our kids have memorized this fact or that fact or that they know that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492; that term returned 15.9 million results.  We shouldn't even be concerned where they rate in most statistical categories compared to other nations.  We should be preparing our children to wade through the vast amounts of information available to them and to critically think about not only the information but the claims about that information as well.  As it gets easier and easier to post information online, the amount of clutter and misdirectoin will only increase.  That will make it more and more important that our kids be able to think critically about topics and evidence and deduce which claims make sense and come from reliable sources.

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