Lie buried

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sheer stubborn ignorance and unwillingness to learn on the part of some producers or consumers may be such an obstacle. But a more frequent form of obstacle is to be found in institutional prohibitions of the full use of whatever knowledge is already available.
--Ludwig Lachmann
Students: How often have your teachers instructed this: "Minimum of X sources. No more than Y Internet sources."

It's 2008. The Internet's been in widespread use for about 14 years now. Not only has everyone even in their 40s grown up with it, everyone with access to a computer has gotten used to it by now. We're no longer thrilled by e-mail or AIM or even streaming video; the Internet has expanded, and, simply evidenced by the enormous rise in and (perhaps especially) the wondrous prevalence of innovative porn fetishes, what reason now is there to think it's not only a fine substitute for print, but a superior one to boot?

We mentioned this to our boss, and he suggested, in line with most wary teachers we can recall, that the Internet isn't as trustworthy as something printed in a book, because anybody can write anything on the Internet. This, so far as we know, is the only argument against Internet sources, and we don't find it convincing--anyone can publish a book on anything, too--it just costs more than publishing something on the Internet; that doesn't make the source reliable, it just means someone was willing to bear a higher cost.

Granted, it is easy to post something on the Internet, but that's precisely what makes it so valuable: Access. Both libraries and the Internet serve the same purpose: to provide access to information; and teachers and librarians can moan all they want, but there's more on the Internet than is likely to be found in the local school and public libraries--and barring its use to favor the poorly stocked, run-down, and forsaken municipal repositories is no different from vulgar protectionism: It discourages the pursuit of knowledge for no decent or well-intended purpose and in so doing flagrantly defies every just principle of education--and incidentally, if, by the time you're writing research papers, you haven't been taught to differentiate between the trustworthiness of a renowned scholar's pdf'd essay and some snide polemical blog, the far, far more important issue should become the trustworthiness of your teachers.

Having more options is never a bad thing. Yes, the Internet is full of nonsense, but 1) so are most libraries (who classify as Nonfiction the "scholarly" works of Morgan Spurlock, the guy who made his bones paying the homeless to eat dog shit) and 2) educators still do no service to their students by prohibiting it; if anything they should encourage further Internet research so, amid a vast and greater ocean of sources, thoughts, and schemes, students can learn invaluable research-discrimination skills -- a very important lesson in trust.

To be fair, some teachers have integrated technology and data prep into their librarical duties, and that's not only the higher road, it's also the smarter path, but the rest, while we'd like to call them good-old-fashioned luddites, we think there's something more sinister at work than a simple aversion to technology (and that itself is hardly an excuse: Why should a teacher ever have an aversion to learning something?). We think it’s the growing obsolescence of the high school and local library, maybe even the college library, and if (or rather when) the Internet overtakes them, it’ll mean less funding (well, theoretically).

Teachers' and especially librarians' jobs stand to be out-competed, so it’s only natural that they try to downplay the efficiency of the Internet and free access to information to favor wasteful and unnecessary school spending. We're trying not to moralize here, but it is hypocritical--we can’t resist taking a jab at some of the high-and-mighty teachers who keep squawking about the importance of education and then grade down for doing extra research.