Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
search  
 
Subscribe   Subscribe   MI on Facebook Find us on Twitter Find us on Instagram      
 
 
   
 
     
 

Forbes.com

 

Assignment: Wombats

December 25, 2006

By Peter W. Huber

PRINTER FRIENDLY

My two boys are being schoogled, and i don't like it. Schoogling is what you get from an old-school educator who teaches history, biology or some other fact-intensive subject to the Google generation.

A typical assignment sheet looks something like this. Prepare a poster or slide show, with pictures and text; you will then present your research to the whole class. Subject: the hairy-nosed wombat. (Life is unfair: The teacher's pet got the Komodo dragon.) Cover 14 points. Origin of "wombat." Wombat behavior (when in a bad mood). Wombats as pets (pros and cons). The problem of roadkill. Eora. Marsupial. Crepuscular. Sedge. Diprotodontia. Narawntapu. Who once wrote something about the wombat and mortal combat? Was it funny? Are we at 14 yet?

My kids bring home a lot of stuff like this, and I am confident they will grow up to be awesome PowerPointers. As adults they will pack all their reports with facts and pictures, and give the chirpiest presentations.

But consider how their wombat time gets spent. Finding all the little facts takes ten minutes, tops. My boys and I sometimes stage a race to see who can do it faster, and it rarely takes me more than five. To keep it competitive, I have to find all 14 answers on a single Web page, and I quite often succeed. Call it School Jeopardy--the teacher, I surmise, first found a great site packed with wombat answers and used it to draft the questions. Which single site supplied my wombat 14? If you can't find it in 60 seconds, you'll never shine in middle school.

So now you're ten minutes into the assignment, and you've found all the factoids--if not at one site, then at 14. And you've found really great sites, too, well organized, with lucid text and lovely pictures. You copy and paste the required pictures into a file. Then you read a sentence or two of text on your screen, retype it in your own words and repeat 13 times. Total time elapsed: 30 minutes. Less, if you cut just a few teensy corners on the rewrites.

Then the real work begins. You have your material; now you can spend the rest of the evening formatting. It's remarkable how long a kid can spend laying out one picture and one fact onto one page of PowerPoint. For a poster, he fires up the color printer, prints out a picture or a little slice of text, and then moves on to scissors and glue. Either way, figure two and a half hours. When it's over, well-formatted digital sources, composed by knowledgeable adults and formatted by professional graphic designers, have been transferred to ink, paper, poster board and glue on my carpet.

Every child should indeed learn that he shares this good earth with a creature as endearing as a wombat and with writers as whimsical as the authors of the "Wombats and Humans" section of the Web page I consulted. But I spent only minutes consulting it. Perhaps all the pasting helps focus the mind and imbue kids with some pride of learning. But any parent who has helped make this happen knows that the ratio of quality wombat time to reformat-and-glue time is wildly out of whack.

Kids do still need to learn facts, just as they still need mental arithmetic, even with calculators always at hand. It is in learning mental Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people )--the art of storing, indexing and retrieving facts in our own minds--that we learn to impose our own intelligent order on a factually jumbled universe. When print ruled, wombat assignments could teach a lot precisely because indexes were so thin and weak. You had to read a great deal to work your way down to the little things, and you learned to search efficiently by coming to understand how facts had been logically organized by others. Google cuts out the intelligent middleman. You waste no time finding out where some dusty Darwin or Gibbon thought a wombat fact might fit in the grander scheme. That's what gets lost in schoogle pedagogy.

The best teachers never did try to stuff facts directly into little heads; they slipped them in under the cover of engaging stories and inspiring visions. Did you know that a young boy let into an enclosure unprotected to feed a wombat at a caravan park was charged, knocked over and bitten and scratched all over? Or that Harry Frauca once received a wombat bite 2 centimeters deep into the flesh of his leg--through a rubber boot, trousers and thick woolen socks? Neither did I. There's more, and if you have an inquisitive 10-year-old daughter in the house, see how long it takes her to find it. Maybe she'll read the rest, too.

Original Source: http://www.forbes.com/free_forbes/2006/1225/139.html

 

 
 
 

The Manhattan Institute, a 501(c)(3), is a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas
that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.

Copyright © 2014 Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Inc. All rights reserved.

52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017
phone (212) 599-7000 / fax (212) 599-3494