PRELUDE TO STUPIDITY
by Christine Ford
Working with young minds, even young minds that are somewhat compromised by various forms of Learning Disabilities, Autism, and Emotional Disabilities, can be a genuine challenge. The children of today just, plain and simple, think differently than we of the pre-internet-in-every-home-era think. Their minds have been tuned by society, schools, and the web to research, to find bits and pieces of data, and to reconstruct those facts into a finished product. Gone into ancient history are the days of curling up surrounded by books, loose-leaf notebook paper, highlighters, pens and pencils and searching for those bits of information that would be pulled out, reworded and reworked, and used to create the end product of a gem of knowledge. Now all you have to do is type a word in Search, and voile! Instantly, all the places to find everything you ever wanted to know about…. Anything! Choose a topic; the internet is a source and resource for boundless information. Incredible, in so vastly many ways, I agree. The world of information is at our fingertips, but what about the world of knowledge?
Hmm, information vs knowledge; a study in words. What would a good teacher’s article be without a couple definitions to bore the readers? I have printed only the meat and potatoes of “knowledge” and “information” to keep you from falling asleep, but they are key to the argument I am presenting! According to Oxford Dictionaries-© Oxford University Press:
1. facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject
2. awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation
1. facts provided or learned about something or someone
2. what is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things
Some may think the parsing out of the difference between those two words is nit-picking; if that is your reaction, then please, I beg you, continue to read, because you have already fallen under the spell that I am referring to. I promise I will do my very best not to turn this article into a rant, but will simply point a finger in the direction of a trend that I, as an educator with some thirty five years of experience under my belt, have watched in horror expand and increase, and see as the furthering of the devolution of the joy of learning, the agape of discovery, and the acquisition of true knowledge in exchange for the shallow mere gathering and compiling of information.
Let me introduce you to one aspect of this growing knowledge vs information dilemma that I have experienced first-hand. My special needs students are able to develop slide presentations in Google Docs at lightning speed, cruising around the world-wide-web, clipping and importing, twisting and turning images and words, print as well as audio, to compile into a finished product. On a positive note, this does help level the playing field for my challenged kids. They are actually helping me become familiar with some technology that was prior Greek to me and they love it; what a boost to their self-confidence. The students in the General Education classroom are even more adept at weaving astounding presentations from facts, pictures and audio blips that they gather and assimilate, cut and paste, into a finished product that looks professional, can be extremely informative, and is visually pleasing as well as auditorily stimulating. Wow, that is incredible, you might say and I agree! Look at how they are utilizing technology to learn!
But wait; is that truly learning? Take those very same students. Give them paper and a pencil, a dictionary and even a paragraph or sentence starter. (For those of you who are not educators, that is a prompt of several words on the topic to get them started) Ask them to write, in their own words, what they have just “created” with the aid of technology, to write a narrative, an essay, even a single paragraph about that which they have just learned, and what do you suppose you get? I can give you an answer from experience. You get, for the most part, nothing, and I don’t mean nothing as in the “No-thing” of the Occult world. You get zilch, nada, squat!
They have collected the information, arranged it in pretty patterns, and perhaps even set it to music, (Please refer back to definition 2 of information) but very little has been processed as knowledge, made their own, stored in their memory, or kept to strengthen the foundation upon which new awareness and knowing are built. The final step in learning is totally missing: the experience of turning that gathered information into knowledge, the practical understanding of a subject, the awareness gained by experience of a fact. (knowledge, definitions 1 and 2) The knowledge just doesn’t quite make the leap to their own personal stash of knowing; it remains locked in the information stage on the electronic memory of the computer.
The growing delusion that they are truly acquiring knowledge in this way and are embarking upon the path of discovery and agape of learning; that taking parts and pieces of “other’s” works and combining them into a collage of color and sound, as beautiful as the end product might be, and stopping with simply the gathering of information absolutely terrifies me. Back in the good old days, this was called plagiarism. By today’s standards, it is creativity, learning, and yes, innovation, to tie into Dr. Stickler’s current article in Spiritual Climate. This shift deeply saddens me, especially as I project into the future the complications of the dumbing down humanity by turning education into a process of information gathering rather than one of acquiring knowledge.
Alarmingly, this trend is not only happening in the lower levels of education, as I can state again from personal experience. I teach with a brilliant young lady who is a genuine educator. She has the heart of a true teacher, the ability to impart knowledge to her students, as is evidenced by the growth and excitement in her classroom; she too teaches special needs children. She is not a “hot house” teacher, but spent four solid years in a face to face university setting, learning and practicing the techniques being taught, acquiring a profound base of knowledge as to the how’s and why’s a student learns. Recently she was bitten by the bug of furthering her education and signed up for Graduate School to get her Master’s Degree in Administration; an admirable endeavor. A school and its teachers can only be as strong as the administrative support behind them; knowing that gifted teachers with a true understanding and knowledge of teaching techniques and pedagogy are not leaving the profession, but are dedicated to staying and expanding their knowledge, is a bright spot for me in an otherwise dismal environment.
Having experienced a solid education in the knowledge of teaching while obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree, my friend was eager to be back in the setting of exchanging ideas, paging through books and highlighting important words, having challenging discussions and exploring face to face with like minds the philosophy of administration. Her first indication of the impersonality and use of technology that would make her graduate experience so different from that of her undergraduate experience, one of information gathering vs acquisition of knowledge, was upon being accepted and attempting to enroll.
Phone calls were not even an option; she was unable to get through to a live person. Everything was done online, with no personal contact at all; a video tutorial was sent to her by the university online as to the process of enrolling online; she created her account and was warmly welcomed electronically. She was invited to a Forum for discussion online, her welcome note came from her professor online as well as her twenty page Syllabus. She was astounded and dismayed, when attempting to order text books, that there were no hold in your hand, dog-ear and highlight, write notes in the margins text books available; only… you guessed it…. online digital copies. She meets with an in person group of twelve students one night a week for four hours; other than that, all work and communication are done online. A report is due each week relating to the subject discussed the previous week, but that report can be as simple as “discussed during class” and submitted online, as long as one attended. This goes on for five intense weeks, and then that Course is complete, and she is ready to move on to the next class. I mentioned “hothouse” previously; perhaps you have a bit more of an understanding of what I meant. Needless to say, my friend was disappointed by the lack of encounter and exchange in this new model and method of higher education, and we talked about where the experience (knowledge) comes in to the mix; I didn’t have much in the way of comfort to offer her, as I have watched this shift spreading and encompassing the entire arena of education for years.
The state of Arizona is in abysmal shape in education; 50th in about every category1. In Arizona, We have Won the Race to the Bottom. Teachers are leaving the state at an alarming rate; vacancies are being filled by full time substitutes and teachers who are have obtained their teaching certification by the “hothouse” method described above; “Come on down, if you have a Bachelor’s degree in anything, combining that and your work experience, we can turn you into a bona fide, certified teacher in eighteen months, and you will be guaranteed job security, because we have chased all the true educators away.” Sorry if I sound a tiny bit jaded; I remember the days when being a teacher was a distinguished, respected, and earned career with at least four knowledge packed years in learning methods and techniques of reaching kids and long hours spent having the experience of applying them, seeing what worked and what didn’t, making the knowledge your own through experience. If you really believe the majority of the teachers turned out by this “hothouse” method of information swallowing and regurgitating have the knowledge and wisdom to be responsible for the education of your child or grandchild, give me a call; I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.
There are more reasons than I care to go into right now for the death throes of education in the state of Arizona, as well as the sad state of education across the great country of ours in general; that is not the focus of this article. What I do know, in the depths of my heart and Soul, is that underlying it all, be it educating our elementary school children, or teaching our teachers to teach, the swing of that gigantic pendulum from regarding the acquisition of knowledge as the hallmark of education to the acceptance of the electronic compilation of information wrapped up in a sensorily attractive package is harkening the slide down that slippery slope into the devolved state of even more stupidity than is evident in society right now. True scholars are a dying breed, and I mourn the loss of the agape of knowledge being turned into the cheap sensorium of the information age. We, as a country, and as humanity, fashioned in the likeness and image of The One, are more grand, noble and inquisitive than that. We are selling ourselves, and the future of mankind, short in the name of information and innovation.
May you grow in your ability to make the information you gather your own and, like an Alchemist turning his personality from lead into gold, turn that base chunk of coal of information into the precious diamond of knowledge.
Editor, Spiritual Climate Newsletter
Copyright © 2015 by Institute of Spiritual Climate LLC
- start here: ‘Report: Arizona ranks among worst states in nation for public school education funding’ by Jessica Suerth, 2015 September 28, link here – http://ktar.com/story/668359/report-arizona-ranks-among-worst-states-in-nation-for-public-school-education-funding/