Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
The November edition of Wired features the Muppets Bunsen and Beaker (always a good start), but what piqued my interest was a one-page article tucked into the middle of the magazine. “Why Johnny Can’t Search,” by Clive Thompson, plays with the decades-old questions about why kids can’t do things that seem really basic to their education (Johnny can’t read or count, either). Thompson reports on a study out of the College of Charleston claiming that while students might be really comfortable using technology, they’re not actually that good at evaluating the credibility of their sources.
This study confirms with scientific evidence what I (and most other English teachers and librarians I know) already knew from experience. The generation of so-called digital natives is remarkably savvy with using technology (all those screens and buttons!), but when it comes to assessing tone or determining authorial credentials, they’re lost. I think part of this phenomenon comes from the “everybody’s an expert” climate of the Internet age, where credentials aren’t actually required for posting things on Google or YouTube. The available technology can make many non-expert sites look extremely professional—which might belie the nonsensical content that often gets taken for serious thought.
Many of my students consider a Google search research, yet the academic definition of research involves rigorous testing, peer review, and an elaborate system of credentialing. No, it’s not fast (certainly not like Google), but it contains actual, substantial information. Not foolproof, but not fool’s bait either. Thompson asserts the increased necessity of librarians as “our national leaders in this fight” in teaching what ultimately boils down to discernment. And yet the system itself seems to work against the development of wisdom; I can’t imagine that all those hours of test prep utilize the teachers’ wisdom or develop the students’. We have an arsenal of qualified teachers whose hands are tied by bureaucracy and a generation of students whose thumbs are texting away at the speed of light. But developing discernment takes time, wisdom, and reflection—and even digital natives can’t find those things in a Google search.