It’s becoming cliche for educators to proclaim that they don’t want to teach children knowledge, because people “can just Google for information.” What they don’t understand is that information comes in various forms, and some are better than others. As Lindsey Brigham writes on the CIRCE Institute’s blog:
In contrast to the meandering, holistic, and often imprecise sort of understanding that grows from extensive reading, Google gives users instant access to specific information and so enables them to find seemingly authoritative, minutely detailed answers to the most obscure questions. Books might slowly make us educated, but Google immediately makes us specialists—masters of the precise question and unquestionable answer.
Into what kind of person will constantly Googling for “the answers” make us? Possibly the kind of person we find in Facebook snit-fests: Cocky, mal-educated into believing that pulling a googled fact out of one’s pocket makes one the argument-winner, unwilling or unable to actually hear contrary ideas—in short, insufferable.
But is the answer repudiating technology altogether? Certainly not. It’s in developing the character and knowledge to use Google well, the wisdom to know what Google is good for and what it is not, and the intellectual grounding to be able to fit Google’s specialized answers into a broader context. As Brigham says:
Classical education is not an alternative to or escape from the modern world, but respite from and preparation for it. We must teach it accordingly. In contrast to the literature majors that Carr describes who eventually quit reading extended works, we and our students can cultivate habits that have little if any direct connection to career-building and Web-surfing. In contrast to the Googler who passively accepts information without broader context, we and our students can assimilate the grand narrative into our thinking so thoroughly that even our Google search results get involuntarily placed within it. In contrast to those who use technology unthinkingly, we can seek to understand this medium well in order to use it wisely.