fighting the lack of good ideas

reference materials

I learned recently that my wonderful wife was never taught how to use a dictionary, thesaurus, almanac, or encyclopedia as a child in school.

Not all of that can be because she went to public school whereas I was homeschooled. Nor can it merely be that she grew up in KY and I in NY.

I’ve seen myriad others younger than her that can’t use those resources, either 🙁

Most people have the basics of how to search online down – but barely the basics*. In many ways, I think online tools are killing our ability to think critically in some areas – learning to ask questions well is one of those areas..

Why are these tools still important in a digital age? Well, what do you do when you need to find something and you don’t have your iPhone, Android, tablet, laptop, etc handy? Do you wait until you have internet access again?

What about when you are looking for something at a library or book store – do you exclusively rely on the staff’s knowledge to help you find what you want, or can you start to locate it yourself?

Part of the problem is that schools, because of the misguided legislation that is NCLB, all teach to the test. Tests can be wonderful tools – but they have no bearing at all on the “real world“. Your ability to score a perfect ACT, ASVAB, GRE, SAT, etc means precisely bupkis.

Being able to find what you need when you need it once you’re out of school, however, will be your daily lifeline to keep from drowning at work and in life.

I remember many times having to learn how to use new reference materials – and how to use ones I already had been introduced to in better, more efficient ways (I still look for better ways to find what I need with tools I have). I remember an entire class day devoted to learning what an almanac is (the Information Please, to be specific), and then doing “information scavenger hunts” through it (for prizes, mind you – yes, my team won first place).

I remember learning how to use the Funk & Wagnalls and Britannica Encyclopædias (my aunt owned the Britannica, my parents the F&W). I remember learning how to use World Book at the library.

I also remember my first semester at HVCC in 1999 where we went to the school library to learn how to search for materials online for our English class – and no one knowing what search engines were … nor even how to use the catalog the school had!

I think that was my first worry about the state of education and how ill-prepared most people are out of high school to be ready to function in further schooling. And I have only seen it get worse.

There is a fundmental breakdown in the education system in the United States. Is a solution redecentralizing? Homeschooling? Montessori? Private/parochial schools? Eliminating teacher unions^? Performance pay for teachers?

I think all of those will play important roles in improving the future of the country.

Something needs to be done – because the state of education today is very bad.

For the record: my wife does know how to reference materials at least at a cursory level – but those skills weren’t learned until she had to have them in college.

* search is broken, but that’s another problem
^ specifically, abuse of power, lobbying, etc