Six years on and we are still Googling it


On July 12th, 2012, I published my first ever blog post on my now defunct ‘Webs of Substance’ blog site. It was called ’21st Century Knowledge’. The purpose of the post was to disagree with the following quote by Howard Gardner, a psychology professor, from an interview about his recently published book:

“…when the answers to factual questions are available at the movement of a mouse or the click of a button, there is no point in spending time committing the information to memory… going forward, our focus in schools… should be on understanding the METHODS whereby assertions are made, the way that a question is posed, how relevant data and arguments are marshaled, what kinds of challenges have been considered, how have they been responded to, etc.”

These were the views that were current in 2012. These are the views that are still current in the vast swathes of our education systems that have remained untouched by a motley assemblage of sceptical teachers having a social media moment.

The evidence comes in constantly, but one article that recently caught my eye dwells upon the effects of this kind of thinking. The article is based upon a survey of admissions staff at UK universities, around half of whom do not believe that students arrive at university sufficiently prepared. Digging into the reasons, the survey found, “The majority [of admissions officers] said that student were ‘unable to remember facts’ and had a “a ‘Google-it’ mentality”.”

I won’t use this post to explain why it is important for students to learn facts because I have written about that many times before. Indeed, E. D. Hirsch was writing about this issue and why you can’t rely on looking things up back in 2000. Instead, I just wish to emphasise that this is a real view about education that is out there and that seems to be having an impact on the education of youngsters.

Don’t let people tell you that this is all a false dichotomy and that everyone has always believed in the importance of learning knowledge. It was not true in 2012 and it is not true now.

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7 thoughts on “Six years on and we are still Googling it

  1. Knowledge gives a person an advantage, an edge. The ability to speak authoritively on a given subject and to teach that subject. It provides a foundation for more knowledge. It also allows true critical thinking on that topic area and to be able to see various options within that topic area…this allows for new discoveries and inventions and genuine “Thinking out of the box”. Knowledge being taught to everyone ensures that there isn’t a tiny powerful elite – it is shared across the many. That is true democracy.

    NOT teaching knowledge (and relying on the “google it” mentality), means that society is raising generations of children who will become adults with no ability to talk about anything critically, without any ability to see the truth or seek the truth of something.
    It makes those who DO have knowledge have genuine power as they can control the information that is then sent out via “Google” etc. Those without knowledge are disabled from being able to participate in democracy. See two recent elections in the UK and America for the results of a small minority able to control what “information” is given and relying on those voting not having the knowledge or the ability to seek out that knowledge.

    It is a very dangerous world if most of the people can’t think because their knowledge foundation doesn’t exist.

    1. No one has a monopoly on the ‘controlling’ the information available in free societies, and it is deeply patronising to assume that the results of the “recent elections” were swayed by ignorant people who were manipulated by a ‘small minority’. Indeed, the ‘Google-it’ generation–those most like to be influenced by social media–voted heavily for the losers in both cases.

      We should be worrying more about who controls teacher education–but fortunately, blogs like this one are instrumental in stimulating genuine debate and putting the case for alternate views. In the 28 years that I’ve been involved in education, there has been a massive reaction against the views held by the likes of Howard Gardner, and this has been the result of open debate. For instance, in 1990 Jim Rose–then the Chief Inspector for HMI–replied to my letter with the statement that “I am firm in urging an eclectic methodology…”. Sixteen years later, he chaired the eponymous review that established synthetic phonics in England.

      1. The recent political debates have involved large amounts of factual inaccurate assertions but the issue was not that people didn’t know but that they didn’t want to or couldn’t fact check. While I voted stay most of my fellow remainers didn’t vote from a well informed viewpoint in the same way as most leavers didn’t vote based on free market liberalism. The issue was execerberatted by a lack of clarity over what outcome we were voting on because Cameron assumed he would win. While I believe more knowledge and a clearer choice would change the outcome I am not at all sure what that new outcome would be.

      2. I expect that self-interest had a lot to do with the way people voted on the referendum. I’ve been largely self-employed almost all of my life–unless you count the income I made as the director of an educational charity that I founded, I doubt that as much as 5% of my income has been in the form of salaries. Without exception, every other self-employed person I know also voted leave. By contrast, most teachers I know voted remain. This isn’t anything I obsess about, but I have little doubt but this division was reflected in analyses of the result.

        It’s also a bit of a no-brainer: self-employed people are confronted at every turn by officialdom in all its glory, whereas most public-sector employees owe their standard of living to our enforced generosity. Although I’m well past the age when most people retire and I’m by no means a hardship case, I’ve been around for long enough to see my salaried friends leap way ahead of me in earnings. Heavens knows, most teachers earn their dosh, but to me, the EU protects the entrenched privilege of cartels and monopolies both private and public. And it’s a white man’s club when even self-interest suggests we should open our trade with Africa and Asia.

  2. We need a concerted effort to get these reports to the top of search engine results. Then when people claim you can just google for facts we can ask them to google it to find whether that is true.

  3. I love this: “a motley assemblage of sceptical teachers having a social media moment” sounds like the plot to a new Dirty Dozen movie….

  4. Teachers get quite grumpy when members of the public deride the occupation, saying “anyone can do it”.

    I can show people some excellent sites on the basic principles of teaching. However transforming that information into teaching well is not simple. The information alone is completely useless. To be useful, information like that must be embedded in a scheme formed in the mind. All teachers must know this.

    Every one of the tools asserting “we can just look up information” does not consider that true for their own field. They are very defensive of their experience and understanding, and would be scornful of suggestions *their* thinking could be replaced by Google.

    I suspect that they know that Google is no replacement for knowledge. But their aim is really to destroy teacher based learning in favour of more “authentic” forms.

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