Two items crossed my virtual and real desk in the past few days.
- First I got my copy of WIRED magazine. (I still love looking through actual ink on pages.) Inside was an article by Clive Thompson I thought was pretty interesting: Why Kids Can’t Search.
- The second was a from China Digital Times: Two New Lists of Sina Weibo’s Banned Search Terms.
This fired up in me the old argument about the benefits/downside of Castro’s Cuba. One of the standard defenses of Cuba is that it has a literacy rate of something like 99.9 percent. Yes a higher literacy would be nice in the United States — 99 percent — I respond, but what with literacy should come the right to use that skill to have the world’s literature available. (Yep, not just the rcognized “good” literature but everything!)
China blocks certain search terms — including the names of the government/political leadership (Xia Yong,” current head of the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets, “Cai Wu,” current head of China’s Ministry of Culture) — because that is what dictatorships do. They seek to limit access to information to the people they rule.
But what happens when you have unlimited access to search terms but don’t have the skills to figure out if the results are bogus.
Clive Thompson points out something that a lot of people have been saying for years: depending on rote learning does little to prepare our children for the 21st century. And this is not just an educational issue.
You see it in the proliferation of “stories” circulated on the Internet as fact when actually many are written by The Onion or other satirical site. (BTW, you should visit Literally Unbelievable to see how so many people get sucked in by The Onion stories.) I see it regularly from certain relatives sending me stories to prove that Pres. Obama is a Marxist, Muslim, Fascist who wants to do away with god and place us under Sharia law. (Yeah, try to figure all that out. Talk about not knowing how to analyze.)
One of the great strengths of the United States and the other democracies is the right to have access to unlimited sources of information. What has to follow from that, however, is the ability to figure out what is important and what isn’t.
The importance of critical thinking — something left behind in No Child Left Behind — is vital to the future. Even Hong Kong — a stronghold of rote learning — is now including critical thinking and analysis as part of its education requirements. (And the kids are flipping out. Hong Kong kids flee in fear of arts subject)
Democracy depends on critical thinking as does free media. Journalists are not stenographers and yet if a new generation is coming up that cannot separate the wheat from the chaff, journalism and democracy have a very serious problem. (To be fair, most — not all — of my journalism students understood the need for critical thinking. I just didn’t think most of them did it enough.)