now that we have the internet, schools need to evolve or get out the way

a few days ago, my good friend and writing buddy, erin, put down some good thoughts:

“We live in the time of “truthiness”, where people seem ready to simply believe that something is true, rather than investigate it. See Rush Limbaugh’s interview about feeling that urban crime is increasing despite data proving otherwise. Despite opening access to information and data to the masses, the democratization of media and information (aka the internet) also gives an equal mouthpiece to misinformation. You can find anything anywhere on the internet to back up any idea, even if it’s totally bogus.”

“All of this (combined with the rise of Trump, anti-intellectualism, and the ridiculousness that is our current news and conventional wisdom discourse) makes me think that (good) leaders can’t depend on “truth” or data at all. Perhaps they need to combine facts, history, science, trends and data along with tools like charisma, emotional narratives and a little Machiavellian strategy – or else face power that is essentially fueled by insanity.

And/or: maybe we need to focus on dialogue, discussion, argument and consensus-building in our public school system.”

i think he’s dead-on. now that the internet exists, as soon as a human has even the most basic grasp of written and verbal language (and all you need is one), that person gains access to essentially all of human knowledge (past, present, and future). you can even use the internet to get better at your language, learn other languages, and translate things from languages you don’t know into ones you do.

given that reality, schools as hubs of knowledge and information transfer is outdated. the education field has been wrestling with this for a while and many people talk about it (there’s a whole series of ted talks on it).

that said, public and private schools have massive physical capital and that doesn’t have to go to waste. so what are schools still good for?

as erin put it, school are places to learn and practice dialogue, discussion, argument, and consensus-building. group settings are still the only places where we can really learn and practice those things. of course there are whole fields of research that have to do with communication, but reading and writing will never replace the ability to have a face-to-face conversation with someone. in fact, some people (sherry turkle, for one) have posited that over-emphasis on virtual and digital communication actually undermines empathy and the ability to have meaningful, face-to-face conversation where we really and genuinely listen to each other.

so. schools need to shift focus or get out of the way. when students “have problems focusing” maybe it’s less because they’re broken students and more because they know how much time they’re wasting listening to someone “teach” them something they already knew or could look up in ten seconds on their smartphone.