Access denied.

Food for thought.  Excerpt:

At a recent conference I attended, an apocalyptically cheerful spokesman for electronic learning and gadgetry prophesied the end of the book. From one of his many digitally endowed pockets he retrieved a device he said would soon replace our library. I seem to recall having heard this one before. On reflection, I realise that I have been hearing it repeatedly for the last four decades. I can’t help noting however that the book is still very much with us, while one Gizmo Gus after another is carted off to push up electronic daisies.

This particular enthusiast for all things speedy, simultaneous and multi-tasking, anything that flashed and bleeped and interfaced, appeared to have no interest whatsoever in what I in my quaintness still call knowledge and learning. He was a representative of that new and potent ideology which claims that it is not the internalisation of knowledge that should be the aim of education, simply the acquisition of techniques for effectively accessing it. In other words, the skills do not have to be ‘learnt’, simply located, downloaded, then stored for future use. As long as a student can find where the knowledge lies, and process it for the task presently in hand, then that, it would appear, is acceptable. This is cant, and dangerous cant too. I would like to explain why.

Real learning modifies the human being who undergoes it. We change; we grow; we see reality differently. If we don’t, then we have not, in fact, learnt: we have merely skimmed the surface of a learning subject. Learning is participatory, which is why in any text-based subject, reading is usually more educative than watching a DVD. The more passive the student can be, the more the information simply passes over the mind, rather than entering it. In one ear and out the other, as we say. But reading, serious reading, close reading, reading of the sort that I still teach in a department of English, cannot tolerate such superficial engagement. Surface contact with the text results in failure, and so it should. Reading involves the whole mind; it is a negotiation of meaning. It is demanding, and rightly so. Merely ‘accessing’ the text does not help…

I’ve found myself guilty of the "locating over learning" mindset from time to time.  And I don’t like it, and it makes me feel my ignorance sharply.  And praising me for my quick Googling skills, or my clever & deft handling of Windows, only heightens the feeling.  (So don’t.  Knowing how to use a hammer properly doesn’t mean I can build a house. (And I can’t.  Either one.)) 


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