Philosophical Musings

November 25, 2007

Just Say No to Linda O’Connor (and Yes to Wikipedia)

Filed under: Digital Culture,postmodernism — Elad Kehat @ 8:12 am

Linda O’Connor, a middle school librarian from New Jersey, has launched a campaign in her school to “Just Say No” to Wikipedia. You have probably heard the reasons before:

“Teachers and students have found at least two cases of incorrect information while using Wikipedia”

Wow, at least two errors, that’s nothing new, but here’s the real problem:

“Kids just take it for gospel, they really do, and that’s my concern about it.”

Apparently, wisdom does not transfer by diffusion. Just spending your life in a library with books all around you  is no guarantee that you’ll become smart. Let us try and see then whether our dear librarian could have come up with a better solution, in just two steps.

First, teach the kids that what they read online isn’t gospel. While you’re at it, why don’t you teach them that what they read offline isn’t gospel either. (Neither is the gospel gospel for that matter, but this is a pro-real education rant, not an anti-organized religion rant so I’ll stop there). Teach them to think for themselves. Teach them to corroborate the “facts”.

“A teacher researching Martin Luther King Jr. found white supremacist information in his entry”

If you taught students the bare minimum of rationale and critical thinking, then they should be able to recognize white supremacist information when they see it, realize that it has no place in a Martin Luther King article, and seek additional sources.

“The problem with Wikipedia, the school officials said, is it can be modified by anyone.”

And here comes the second step – realize that your students are people too  – “can be modified by anyone” includes them. Why not let them contribute something?

Instead of launching a “just say no” campaign, I’d rather see Ms. O’Connor suggest that her students take up a subject, learn all about it from various “authoritative” sources, then go into Wikipedia, look for errors and fix them. This way students could learn that there are inaccuracies in Wikipedia, learn how to look for additional sources and corroborate information they find online, and even give something back to society by making Wikipedia, a free source that’s easily available for everyone, more accurate.

Unlikely. I just hope that the digital generation are smarter than their parents.

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2 Comments »

  1. It’s just unegnorably funny that this woman is a librarian. I’m not atempting to undermine the arguments by going after her personally but come on… :-))

    Comment by U5K0 — November 27, 2007 @ 8:28 pm | Reply

  2. Always ask, “who benefits from this?” In the case of Libraries or Media Centers and those who run them, is it possible that they sense losing their control on access to knowledge, or their self-appointed role of filtering it according to their own proclivities and peculiarities? Librarian types think in highly rigid, structured, and organized ways…they’re very orderly people. So were the Nazis. But in this case, orderliness should serve access, not be an obstacle to it. Wikipedia is just fine, thank you. And so is Connexions from Rice University. Check it out at cnx.org. Happy 30th.

    Comment by George — December 12, 2007 @ 3:15 pm | Reply


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