Monthly Archives: March 2016

‘Can I feed my child mud?’ – a parody on inquiry

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.” – Thomas Pynchon.

Like most educators, deputy headmaster Jose Picardo must have an innate curiosity about knowledge. He just posted a poll to Twitter asking ‘Is it necessary to acquire knowledge and learn facts in schools?’

No, wait, in fact he preceded the question with ‘Now that we have Google, is it necessary to acquire knowledge and learn facts in schools?’

I suspect something in the difference there, as the onus is obviously on the first clause. Interesting that he posts the question to a knowledge construction tool, Twitter, which should result in debate rather than singular answers, but paradoxically single answers are all that’s proffered by the poll.

Note that the question is posed to teachers. At first I assumed this to be a little insulting to their intelligence, but Jose seems nothing if not crafty in his guile. His question strikes at the core of epistemology in today’s technologically enabled world of communication and information. Yet I think the question has more meaning posed to students than teachers and sometimes we should try to see through their lifeworld whenever we want to assume their perspective. It’s certainly a question students are more likely to ask, so why is he asking it to us?

The question, of course, has precedence in Nicholas Carr’s famously myopic essay ‘Is Google making us stupid?’ I don’t want to conflate the questions, because they have nothing in common (of course they don’t) so I’ll focus this blog on Jose’s and try to answer it by myself without looking up the answer:

‘Now that we have Google, is it necessary to acquire knowledge and learn facts in schools?’

Firstly, clearly there are different types of knowledge, so the question is predicated on what types of knowledge we’re after from Google. The indicator is in ‘facts’, so let’s put it to practice. I adapt this to my subject, English, a discipline which is not well furnished with facts. However, a recurrently problematic issue for students to understand is the meaning of a metaphor. So a student goes to Google. ‘What is a metaphor?’

Google gives an immediate word group – noun.

Right, okwhat’s a noun? Hmm: “a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things [common noun], or to name a particular one of these [proper noun]. Ahh, wait…what’s a pronoun, common noun..and a proper noun?!…[further searches] oh..ok got it. I think. I think therefore I googled. So, is Google a verb or noun?

Google gives a definition: “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable”. Cool, got it. Definitions, word groups..all good. Situated cognition in effect.

So, er, what’s a noun again?

It was…a figure of pronoun or object not appropriate to …erm…speech…wait…who said that? Not Google. Then no one can see if I understood, or learn it or compounded my assimilation of ‘noun’ by testing me. Not Google anyway. OK, just check again. Simple. Why do I need to assimilate knowledge? Only teachers need to understand concepts so thoroughly that they can pass them on to others – and that’s what Google’s for.

Hmm, well, hardly. A metaphor is an abstract, so not exactly ‘facts’ involved here. Better if I were a Science teacher. But I’m not, because I couldn’t remember all that stuff about plants and water and light.

Wait.

‘Now that we have Google, is it necessary to acquire knowledge and learn facts in schools?’

Ah, this is easy. The answer to Jose’s question is ‘yes.’ Right? He asks if it’s necessary.

Yes, it’s necessary because we might not always have Google or Wifi – like if we were in the Sahara Desert, or Devon.

No, no, that’s too easy. He’s a deputy head of an actual proper school, so there must be another angle. Perhaps he’s asking me to question the purpose of education – is it too recall facts? Is it in the pleasure of endeavour? Is it the social and participatory element? The cognitive persistence and mastering the malleability of plasticity?

Nah, also too easy. The answer must be ‘no’ then, surely. After all, if we can get transmitted knowledge from Google, we can FLIP our time together and do really cool crazy stuff in lessons to help us get jobs, like build energy efficent rockets and interview Martians on Periscope.

Hmm, but not everyone knows how to use Google. Not everyone has a desktop computer at home or even a latop. So maybe the purpose of School is to learn how to use Google?

Nah, cos in 10 years Google will be a shoe manufacturer or do robot repairs, as all knowledge will be stored on little headphones sold by McDonalds.

OK!

Right. Let’s try asking Google a different one, then: a more scientific question apropos of proper learning:

‘Can I feed my child mud?

I know, I know – ‘tabloid stupidity’. If I ask a stupid question I’ll get a stupid answer and receive the wisdom thereof. But it’s SCIENCE, isn’t it?

Oh brother, 12, 500, 000 entries. Isn’t Google supposed to be an expert? Like …a teacher. Why 12,500, o00? Just tell me the answer. Too much information.

Wait, ‘National Geographic’. Hmm, so maybe mud is good for you? Nutrients and all. Probably better than Greggs. ‘Poor Haitians resort to eating mud.’ Woooah, wait, that’s in Haiti, where there was an earthquake, so…[deducing] in the aftermath of an earthquake it’s ok to eat mud. Or…wait… ”mud has long been prized as an antacid…” Acid, sounds bad – so, what’s an anti…what’s it?

Google.

Antacid: adjective

Now what the hell’s an adjec-what…oh…Google: antacid:

(chiefly of a medicine) preventing or correcting acidity, especially in the stomach.

“I prescribed a kaolin antacid mixture”

And a Noun.

Huh?

 Ah, noun! An…er…noun..a name or something. Here:

noun: antacid; plural noun: antacid.

Plural noun? What the actual?

OK, Google. Should just be renamed Info. ‘I’m just infoing some Google’ because I cannot make head nor tail or all these words. What does it all mean? Why can’t Google just tell me?

1.an antacid medicine.

..so… antacid is medicine? So Mud is good. And if I can find out what antacid medicine is for, then all the better. So Google is good, because it makes me ask more questions. Like school. And inquiry is good, because it’s making me think critically? Smarts.

Or maybe I should ask Twitter, you know…get people’s opinions? Get a debate going? Of course that would depend on those people. I don’t know them any better than I know Google.

I know – the Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions Theory. Present knowledge as a statement of truth:

Eating Mud is Good for you. Agree/Disagree.

Sit back, wait for responses, let others construct the answer for you (Heh, just like I did in science at school).

But what if there’s no one to ask, or no one responds on Twitter (as usual)? What’s the point in asking? What’s the value of knowledge anyway? All knowledge has a shorter and short half-life so how do we know that Google is even up to speed with what it don’t even know it don’t know?

Let’s try another knowledge question – based on process and product, some facts and skills. ‘A search engine for my search engine. Withdraw, I’ll help you to a search engine. Lolz.’

Ok: how do I change the cambelt on a Ford Focus (Zetec – 1.6.)?

Google: Cambelt – replace every 5 years or every 100 000 miles. Woah, this is easy: YouTube video or – OR – go to Halfords for a FREE cambelt check. Human Interest! For free! In a Tory country!!

[Enters Halfords]

“Hi. I’ve just come in here for my FREE Cambelt check.”

Staff member: “Car model and year?”

“Um, Ford Focus (Zetec – 1.6.). Two thousand um…emfmm emmc it smc and. Dnnns.”

Staff member: moves to computer and checks on Google (like they do in the doctor’s surgery). “Yeah, you need to get it done every 5 years or 100,000 miles.”

“Erm, ok. Is that my free check up?”

Staff member: “Confirmed. It’s free. It’s £ 300 to look under the bonnet to see if your cambelt needs replacing.”

“THREE HUNDRED POUNDS? Wait, Google said it was free.”

Staff member: “Free to check, sir. To check on Google. Don’t believe everything you read.”

Later. Home.

[Returns to YouTube video ]. “OPEN THE BONNET – TAKE THE FAN BELTS OFF- LOOSEN THE NUTS – PUSH THE ALTERNATOR DOWN – TAKE ALL THE BOLTS OFF THE TURNING COVER…”

“Huh? Alter what now? Ohh, should have taken a motor maintenance course, chagrin, regret, self-loathing, etc.”

 OK, this video seems like haaaard work. It’s almost like with work there’s some kind of biting point – a sort of engagement – that’s needed to do anything. If I can’t be bothered, I don’t go anywhere, but if I manage to dig in and persist over that first threshold, there is a beautiful meadow – call it Googleland – where everything is known, like in the Gabriel Garcia Marquez book One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Except, everything is not known. Acquiring (and constructing) knowledge requires effort, inquiry, personal pursuit, socialisation, discussion, assessment, and the negotiation and rejection of received wisdom – and,  moreover (moreover, mind), it often benefits from the tools at our disposal. So,

One last Google check:

‘Now that we have Google, is it necessary to acquire knowledge and learn facts in schools?’

Mumbles: Bloody Google… useless when you have a real question to ask…just a springboard for…wait, oh

 

Ahhh, I see. The answer is suddenly clear. If only Jose had mentioned Wikipedia.

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