Pulling back the curtain to reveal the wizard. That’s what I was trying to do when I taught my high school students. I wanted them to understand the process of searching for information through effectively accessing and utilizing sources. I saw it as a fundamental principle of my job to move students beyond selecting whichever answer came up first. They needed to understand how the information was constructed and why they should evaluate it. The end answer wasn’t the goal for me, because that’s what they were supposed to construct themselves. If I accomplished that, then I was successful. I found this concept reflected in the July 29th GeekDad interview with Douglas Rushkoff regarding his book Program or be Programmed. In it, Rushkoff discusses dealing with technology and its integration into our society. He contends that most people don’t acknowledge the underlying motivations of technology. I happen to agree. It is very easy for individuals to disregard what’s behind the curtain and it is happening at a detriment to our society. It is extremely vital that we understand the gears and whistles behind our technology or at least acknowledge that they are there. This is the first step towards being active participants in today’s digitally enhanced society and building a better democracy for it.
In 2009, the Knight Commission published a report titled Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, which I include in my “Of Interest” list. The report highlights the ways in which communities need to be empowered with knowledge to build a better democracy. It was clear to me that’s what I was doing as a school librarian. I was doing my part to arm students, teachers and administrator with skills to become effective participants in digital society. Yes, you read correctly, teachers and administrators, too. Adults are in need of education just as much as our children since we are the ones who are supposed to be modeling good technology behavior for them. Rushkoff’s interview ends with GeekDad asking what we could do to prepare our children and he pointed to education basics. “I would prepare my kids for life, not some fictional computer event. I think reading and writing are still great things for kids to learn. Some basic math,” he says.
You can give a man a fish, but if you teach him to fish…well, you know. We need to teach our children how to fish. Experts in the fields of education, media and information say, as Mr. Rushkoff did, that teaching media literacy is important to our future. The 2010 National Education and Technology Plan from the U.S. Department of Education titled Transforming American Education (also on my “Of Interest” list) discusses a model of learning powered by technology. I’ve poured over that report and guess what. The aims of the report include connecting teaching and content areas, providing infrastructure for connected learning and having highly skilled people to do it. Gee, that’s exactly what I was doing before my position was eliminated due to budget cuts.
Imagine a facility where specialists who hold advanced degrees and who are highly trained in information and literacy skills assess the needs of a specific community and create catered services. Resources, media training and even satellite assistance via the Internet or the phone would be available to the members of that community. These specialists would be on the cutting edge of technology and have the ability to build a service center for the community that reflected its past, present and future. How can it be that so many are calling for teaching our communities advanced media and information literacy skills and the very institutions already in place, happy to oblige and fighting for survival are getting obliterated?
Libraries and librarians, both school and public, are needed. The evidence is overwhelming. I often think of text messaging and using a calculator when I compare my early education to that of today’s children. I know the longhand way of doing things, so when I do the shorthand version, I do it with the knowledge of what it really means. IMHO, our children are losing that knowledge. I have witnessed it first hand. They are giving up their own brainpower to simply receive information from whatever source they happen upon first. They do not understand what went into constructing the information and instead are depending upon answers constructed for them. They’re all holding expensive rods and not even fishing! Will all of them ever need to multiply using only pencil and paper? Maybe not. However, it is important that they understand that it can be done. By understanding this, they will be reminded that everything coming from a computer first came from someone’s brain and maybe they will decide to use theirs a little more. Our future depends upon it.