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December 10, 2009 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Using Google to research how Google works, a univerisity student gave a presentation on PidgeonRank, unaware that this was actually a hoax created by Google for April Fool's Day, 2002 (previously). How did this happen in 2009? Michael Zimmer responds: He trusted Google.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (80 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Meanwhile some kid in California is using Snopes to write a paper about the history of the state flag.
posted by birdherder at 7:50 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess they let anyone into the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee?
posted by chunking express at 7:51 AM on December 10, 2009


This reminds me of an article I read yesterday about why college degrees aren't as valuable in the marketplace as they used to be. More lunkheads are attending college.
posted by anniecat at 7:53 AM on December 10, 2009


Did he not know that if you type "Google" into Google it will BREAK the INTERNET.
posted by Electric Dragon at 7:59 AM on December 10, 2009 [12 favorites]


But how did my student fall for it in 2009? He trusted google.

Uhh.. no. He was bullshitting and going through the motions...
posted by pwally at 7:59 AM on December 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


It says on the bottom of the PidgeonRank article:

"Note: This page was posted for April Fool's Day - 2002"

I mean sheesh.
posted by LSK at 8:00 AM on December 10, 2009


What's a pidgeon?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:01 AM on December 10, 2009


GOOGLE BETRAYED THAT POOR STUDENT
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:02 AM on December 10, 2009


When I first started teaching at NYU, one of my students used an article from the Onion as a source. She had no idea it was satirical newspaper even though the title was "Irrelevant Pop Stars Unite Against Bush."
posted by miss-lapin at 8:02 AM on December 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


What's a pidgeon?

A bird that hangs around univerisitys.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:05 AM on December 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


I like how Zimmer blames the search engine instead of the searcher.

THE INTERNET IS FULL OF LIES PEOPLE
posted by graventy at 8:09 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just don't see how I can continue using google after this, where is the outrage sheeple?!?
posted by pwally at 8:11 AM on December 10, 2009


I like how Zimmer blames the search engine instead of the searcher.

Does he? He says that information literacy should be a required class for all students. He makes it pretty clear that the questions about Google's actions were more discussion topics than serious suggestions.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:12 AM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


Or: Student presents PigeonRank as a joke; media professor runs with it because it makes a more interesting blog entry than, "Student doesn't take my class seriously"
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:14 AM on December 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm a student and I would never rely on a single source to do a paper, let alone something as ridiculous as this. It doesn't even sound true.

Common sense, people, common sense!
posted by too bad you're not me at 8:14 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the student's problem is two-fold:
  1. Failure to use (or possess) critical thinking skills
  2. Failure to read to the bottom of the page
posted by demiurge at 8:16 AM on December 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


Sure, a bit more information literacy might have tipped him off that this was a joke, but, like many folks, he had no real clue how Google works and simply trusted the result.

Having no real clue is not an excuse for being a complete dumbass. Pigeons? Really?

If I may be meta-skeptical for a moment: I have to doubt that someone could really be this stupid.
posted by DU at 8:16 AM on December 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


Only casuals use google, if you want results use zambini.
posted by Iron Rat at 8:17 AM on December 10, 2009


Plus, if you google "pigeon rank" in google, and the second result is a Wiki page called "Google's hoaxes".
posted by too bad you're not me at 8:17 AM on December 10, 2009


We need to teach information literacy as a core competency for all students.

Well, that's what this boils down to, isn't it? It's easy to harp on the kid for not being more thorough, but then have we all been completely exhaustive in our research for every last mundane paper throughout our education?

Many of the smartest people I know are blissfully unaware (or were until I enlightened them, like some sort of noble-ass sensei) of little things that make life with the Google so much easier, like "quotes for phrases", pipes|for|or, or site:specific search.

People have predicted for years that newer generations will be less served by having knowledge per se than by having access to knowledge, and they are right. Knowing your way around town is more important than owning the real estate, as it were.

This student's glorious bit of fail is just a teachable moment in the process of learning about information literacy and/or information hygiene, IMO.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:18 AM on December 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


I am stunned this did not happen at ITT tech or the university of phoenix.
posted by krautland at 8:19 AM on December 10, 2009


STUDENT DISPROVES GOOGLE USING PIGEONHOLE PRINCIPLE.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:20 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, what you're saying is that I won't be getting the latest developments on Google's distributed cooing initiative? Well, damn.
posted by bakerina at 8:21 AM on December 10, 2009


The important question to answer is whether this student behavior is anomalous or wide-spread. Are students in general performing poorly in critically analyzing information, or is this just a case of "over here look at my pet theory, look how shiny it is"?
posted by forforf at 8:21 AM on December 10, 2009


Initially I started to write that the kid trusted Google over common sense, but maybe my idea of common sense is not everybody's. Why doesn't this idea make sense? Well, for a lot of reasons, like the fact that all that business about pigeons and comparing documents is (I assume) made up, because of scalability, because pigeons shit everywhere. Maybe if "computers" or "the Internet" is a total black box to you, you suspend common sense because all of it seems like the magical Matrix mystery tour anyway, so pigeon farms seem about as likely as server farms.

And yet, it's still pretty ridiculous. Forget computers: who doesn't know that pigeons are fucking disgusting?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:24 AM on December 10, 2009


So, what you're saying is that I won't be getting the latest developments on Google's distributed cooing initiative? Well, damn.
posted by bakerina at 8:21 AM on December 10 [+] [!]

I have an invite to Google Pigeon if you want one.
posted by gc at 8:24 AM on December 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


I am stunned this did not happen at ITT tech or the university of phoenix.
That would require them to actually read the papers they grade.

Does he? He says that information literacy should be a required class for all students.
You're right, but I would argue that he is a lot kinder to his student than he should be by even suggesting that google itself should perhaps offer a solution to this 'problem'.
posted by graventy at 8:24 AM on December 10, 2009


Clearly, the moral of the story is for lazy students to use articles from Wikipedia as their only source of information when forced to do presentations, rather than Google.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:30 AM on December 10, 2009


"Having no real clue is not an excuse for being a complete dumbass. Pigeons? Really?"

You're forgiven for thinking that, but consider the kind of power that someone, or something, would have if you could control the kind of results a search engine spouts out. It's the kind of power that you wouldn't want to give up willingly, as I'm sure you can understand.

A skeptical mind could therefore test the pigeon search theory by asking themselves, what kind of information would pigeons want to shield you from: opinions of dissent of course and lo and behold a google search for ::: "pigeon search", skepticism, "truth not lies" ::: yields NO results. QED!
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 8:31 AM on December 10, 2009


These googles do nah-ting for my grades!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:31 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Considering how many people believe Obama was born in Kenya, thinking pigeons run google isn't too far out there. [Insert atheist rant here.]

There are so many examples of twitter mobs relaying incorrect information and having real impact. CNN too. I know someone who refuses to believe there were any less than 2.5 million people marching the mall on 9/12. He doesn't trust "liberal media" and knows people who believe that number. He refuses to accept impartial analysis. He has more or less CHOSEN what is "true" and believes that. This person will soon have a masters in engineering. He is literally a rocket scientist. "Choosing" to believe Google, or FreedomWorks PR agency is about the same thing.

If anyone knows more about this "information literacy" program he proposes or something similar, I'd like to hear it. Because this whole thing throws dark clouds over my hopes for the future, and makes me briefly consider terrible fascist policies.

I'm also going to hope there were some cultural literacy issues at work with this student, maybe he didn't understand april fools day, or what pigeons are? Or more broadly, doesn't get sarcastic humor which is mostly a Western thing.
posted by fontophilic at 8:36 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]



I guess they let anyone into the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee?


How many Israeli Prime Ministers went to your school?
posted by drezdn at 8:41 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is the internet.
posted by boo_radley at 8:43 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like how Zimmer blames the search engine instead of the searcher.

Not the search-engine, but the result. Remember, both the search-engine and the result here are Google; basically, the student took a document on google.com as canon.
posted by the cydonian at 8:44 AM on December 10, 2009


Should have used Bing. On every result, it pops up a warning that says "Are you sure you're this dumb? [ Continue ] [Cancel ]"
posted by rusty at 8:44 AM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]



I have an invite to Google Pigeon if you want one.

Sweet! Thanks, gc!

Heyyy, WAIT A MINUTE...
posted by bakerina at 8:45 AM on December 10, 2009


but then have we all been completely exhaustive in our research for every last mundane paper throughout our education?

Depends on what you mean by being completely exhaustive, but assuming a reasonable (ie., non-circular) meaning, then Yes, and with paper sources no less. It wasn't actually that hard. It sucked, but it wasn't hard.

There's a difference between being just another harried student and being a dumbass.

This student was the latter, and I was pleased to note that penalties were applied to their grade.
posted by aramaic at 8:46 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


rusty: "Should have used Bing."

And if you like the look and feel of Bing but the taste of Google, there's skinggle.
posted by boo_radley at 8:52 AM on December 10, 2009


I'm torn between thinking that the problem is with the student, or that the problem is with the teaching. I mean don't get me wrong, it's a hell of a thing to fall for, but being a student myself I've had it hammered home that we need to use multiple sources on everything we write, and that wikipedia isn't a respected scholarly website. Yeah, the kid shouldn't have fallen for the prank, but if he did it because he was feeling lazy is one thing, if he did it because his university never taught him this stuff, then the problem isn't with him or with google, it's with the education he's supposed to be getting.
posted by emperor.seamus at 8:53 AM on December 10, 2009


Oh my god. I've never even looked at Bing. What is this bullshit?
posted by rusty at 8:54 AM on December 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


The PigeonRank paper, of course, was a hoax, part of a student's 2009 stoner sense of humor. But how did his professor fall for it? Simple. He was desperate for an interesting blog post and had already tapped Chicken Soup For The Soul dry.
posted by katillathehun at 8:58 AM on December 10, 2009


the magical Matrix mystery tour

And that's an invitation!

Plug in your augmentation!
posted by adamdschneider at 9:08 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


What's a pidgeon?

DR. MORBIUS, YA PHILISTINE!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:11 AM on December 10, 2009


Rusty: The best thing about Bing is calling it 'The Bingle' in the same voice that Elaine used in the line '...the dingo ate my baby'.
Yes people will look at you funny but it doesn't matter as you'll be cracking up every time.
posted by 8dot3 at 9:17 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]



If I may be meta-skeptical for a moment: I have to doubt that someone could really be this stupid.

I wish that my world were sufficiently full of intelligent people that I could doubt people could be this stupid. I had a young woman turn in an essay in which she argued that the reason the US won WWII is that the US destroyed all Japan's nuclear weapons before the Japanese could use them.

People can always be stupider than you think possible.
posted by winna at 9:18 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


People can always be stupider than you think possible.

This is very true.

It is worth noting, of course, that we are all included in that statement.
posted by aramaic at 9:20 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yet another example of why students need information literacy education.
posted by nestor_makhno at 9:26 AM on December 10, 2009


It is worth noting, of course, that we are all included in that statement.

As someone who once bought a stolen car and was startled by the police showing up to reclaim it, I kind of thought it went without saying.
posted by winna at 9:38 AM on December 10, 2009


More proof that anyone who doesn't know everything I do* is an idiot.

*Includes things I learned only yesterday.
posted by rocket88 at 9:39 AM on December 10, 2009




> Yet another example of why students need information literacy education.

I have no idea if this sort of thing is actually being taught in high school or university, but speaking as a public librarian I am continually amazed by how clueless many kids are when it comes to sources of information on the internet; as far as they're concerned, if it's on there, it's True. I ran a one-off seminar on research essays for high school students a couple of years ago and spent most of the two hours trying to explain to them that Some Guy's Blog is not a source they should be citing in their essays.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:43 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


At times like these, I turn to Foghorn Leghorn, "That kid's about as sharp as a pound of wet liver."
posted by tommasz at 9:43 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Note to student: Cloud computing doesn't mean letting the pigeons go on an overcast day.
posted by fnerg at 9:48 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]



This reminds me of an article I read yesterday about why college degrees aren't as valuable in the marketplace as they used to be. More lunkheads are attending college.
posted by anniecat at 7:53 AM on December 10


In a photo essay linked to from the Time Magazine article linked to above, there's a photo of a girl with a new Mac (circa 1985) and assorted packing detritus. The caption tells us 'Here, a freshman at Drexel University shows off a gift from her alma mater; in 1985, the school issued each incoming student a new Microsoft computer.'

a) I don't know where to start, about mistaking a Macintosh for anything other than a Macintosh (the fact that there's a box in the pile that says Microsoft can not be considered an excuse, I'm sorry.)

b) a Microsoft computer?

Obviously at least one of the New Lunkheads got a job at Time.
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 9:51 AM on December 10, 2009


I ran a one-off seminar on research essays for high school students a couple of years ago and spent most of the two hours trying to explain to them that Some Guy's Blog is not a source they should be citing in their essays.

Isn't trusting the content based on the reputation of the source exactly the problem here though? The student (albeit naively) used Google search to find a page published by Google that purportedly explained how Google search works. In this case the source material should have been recognized as obviously fake by anyone who has basic knowledge of how web applications work, but major trusted information sources often get major details wrong.

But a student could just as easily use a newspaper story that was later retracted as a source, or a book that was discredited by experts in the field. Who's to say that publishers are the correct organizations to decide what is and isn't true, and that Some Guy's Blog can't be the best source of information on a given topic?
posted by burnmp3s at 10:06 AM on December 10, 2009


like many folks, he had no real clue how Google works and simply trusted the result. (At the bottom of the page is a disclaimer that it is just a hoax, but he must not have seen it.)

So... In other words, it's not that he trusted google, it's more like he didn't do his work properly and actually read the page in full?

Yeah, I think the student being a dumbass is more likely than google feeding us misinformation.
posted by splice at 10:16 AM on December 10, 2009


Yet another example of why students need information literacy education.

If schools haven't been successful at teaching kids to think critically, offering classes in 'information literacy education' is pretty much shutting the barn door etc... Thinking is thinking. It's not a series of tricks/skills to learn, like how to search for things in quotes.

I once tried to help a fellow student with her essays at university, and couldn't - she wasn't even writing in sentences, and was just putting words in that she'd heard used in the lectures without having any idea what they meant. I had to ask her 'Does this sentence make sense to you?' and she would say that it didn't (without any idea that this reflected on her). Didn't stop her from thinking she was finished with the essay. She most likely thought that what she wrote made as much sense as what she heard in lectures and read in books, therefore it was equivalent and would be considered good by the lecturer.

A failure in 'how not to be an idiot' and 'how to assemble a string of words in an appropriate order, containing at least a noun and a verb, which expresses an idea' - these are failures at elementary school level, and could have been corrected in any class in any subject.

Students don't need 'information literacy education', they just need education.
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 10:21 AM on December 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


Meanwhile some kid in California is using Snopes to write a paper about the history of the state flag.

That seriously blew my mind for a few minutes. I feel like a fundamentalist who just found a mistake in the Bible.
posted by designbot at 10:25 AM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


In a photo essay linked to from the Time Magazine article linked to above, there's a photo of a girl with a new Mac (circa 1985) and assorted packing detritus. The caption tells us 'Here, a freshman at Drexel University shows off a gift from her alma mater; in 1985, the school issued each incoming student a new Microsoft computer.
I'm pretty sure MS Word's spellcheck used to correct "Macintosh" to "Microsoft" back in the day.
posted by Aquaman at 10:27 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


My ex-girlfriend was really upset/disappointed that she fell for the Google April 1 "print and mail your Gmail and attachments to you" prank.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:31 AM on December 10, 2009


People can always be stupider than you think possible.

Indeed, I know a mefite who had to spend a half hour, while working at Kinko's, convincing some customer that printing on both sides of a transparency wasn't going to work out when it came to present the sides separately.
posted by nomisxid at 11:17 AM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


> Who's to say that publishers are the correct organizations to decide what is and isn't true, and that Some Guy's Blog can't be the best source of information on a given topic?

Well, fair enough, but I should have been clearer; the problem wasn't just that the students failed to distinguish between "good" and "bad" sources of information; most of them thought all sources of online information were equally "good." The New York Times, Encyclopedia Brittanica, Wikipedia, Time Cube...it's all on the internet, right?
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:26 AM on December 10, 2009


Indeed, I know a mefite who had to spend a half hour, while working at Kinko's, convincing some customer that printing on both sides of a transparency wasn't going to work out when it came to present the sides separately

I love this.
posted by device55 at 11:38 AM on December 10, 2009


But a student could just as easily use a newspaper story that was later retracted as a source, or a book that was discredited by experts in the field. Who's to say that publishers are the correct organizations to decide what is and isn't true, and that Some Guy's Blog can't be the best source of information on a given topic?

If only one source is used for your whole paper/presentation/whatever, then you have not actually done any research -- or at best you've done extremely lazy research. A student with basic info lit skills would have at least put "google pigeon rank" into the search engine to find additional information.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:52 AM on December 10, 2009


I'm pretty sure MS Word's spellcheck used to correct "Macintosh" to "Microsoft" back in the day.

My favorite was when I was working on a chemistry assignment. I wrote something like "5 M NaOH" (i.e. a concentration of sodium hydroxide), and Word suggested I really meant "5 M nachos."
posted by exogenous at 11:52 AM on December 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


There's a whole mess of problems, and I'm not sure what the solution is, besides to make kids smarter somehow.

I think I'm a pretty smart person - I was in the honors program and all that - but I was seriously a Junior in undergrad before I had to write a paper that cited serious sources. I actually spent more than half of my college career not knowing about the awesome academic databases that students had access to.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:14 PM on December 10, 2009


We need to teach information literacy as a core competency for all students

Actually, we need to teach it to our children before they reach school, and it isn't particularly hard. My children, for instance, already know a lot about money and barter through the use of marbles, and we've taught them that commercials and advertisements are something that makes you want things, created by people who want to trade those things for your marbles. After a few conversations about this, they stopped saying "I want that!" and we started having conversations like this: "that toy doesn't REALLY fly, does it, daddy?" "nope, they just want to make it look more fun than it is." "well, I don't want that, then." My kids aren't even in kindergarten yet.

The thing is, this doesn't make me an awesome parent -- it's just a reminder of how awesome kids are. Kids are capable of understanding a lot more than we give them credit for, at a very early age. If you don't jump on it and feed them useful information, they'll try to figure out things on their own. When it comes to interpreting the media, leaving them to figure the media out using only the tools that media provides is a sure-fire way to help kids develop a lack of critical thinking skills.
posted by davejay at 12:25 PM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


There's a whole mess of problems, and I'm not sure what the solution is, besides to make kids smarter somehow.

I think I'm a pretty smart person - I was in the honors program and all that - but I was seriously a Junior in undergrad before I had to write a paper that cited serious sources. I actually spent more than half of my college career not knowing about the awesome academic databases that students had access to.


Well, that's the thing; it isn't about making kids smarter, it's about trusting that kids are capable of understanding and using the tools available to them, if we make them aware of the tools (which didn't happen for you) and demand they use the tools (which didn't happen for you.) The problem had nothing to do with how smart you were.
posted by davejay at 12:28 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


...is a sure-fire way to help kids develop a lack of critical thinking skills.

Er, you can't really develop a lack of something. It's a sure-fire way to keep kids from developing those skills.

posted by davejay at 12:30 PM on December 10, 2009


Actually, we need to teach it to our children before they reach school, and it isn't particularly hard

Sure, but schools ALSO need to teach this, because many parents either won't, can't, or don't bother to. Parental involvement is awesome, and from my mom's perspective as a 30+ year kindergarten/1st grade teacher is indeed the largest influence on how well kids do in school, but many kids just don't get any (sometimes because the parents are poorly educated or work 3 jobs, sometimes because the parents are dicks).
posted by wildcrdj at 1:15 PM on December 10, 2009


College kids these days (whoo, blanket statement!) either have a serious lack of critical thinking skills, or absolutely no interest in doing well in their classes. Neither of these makes me very inclined to pass them, and both cause me considerable heartache during the quarter. I mostly teach introductory-level geology courses, which is a twofold problem because a) it is introductory, and most students don't seem to be used to the idea of 'college-level work' in intro classes, and b) most everyone seems to think that taking a geology course will keep them away from the bogeyman of SCIENCE! while allowing them to get their science credit. So it's assumed to be 'rocks for jocks' and most people idle in and lean back in their chairs expecting a free ride.

This is why, on the first day of class, we are sure to introduce them to the apparently loathed idea that geology uses (gasp!) chemistry, physics, and even biology very heavily throughout the course. And they will have to learn at least a little about all three. Of course, very few of them actually listen, and many of them take the time to complain, another thing I've also never quite understood; teachers don't generally want to shower you straight As for sub-par work if you continually take the time to remind them how much you "hate rocks and think they are stupid" and "don't understand why anyone would want to study rocks" because "they aren't really important for anything". Yes. Actual words heard many times this quarter alone.

So I see a lack of common sense even on the social level (how could it possibly charm me to hear you endlessly complain that you have to do work in a college-level course?) and of course much worse on the analytical level. We give simple problems that we try to relate to things they might understand, like instead of only saying a tsunami moves at x speed and has to go y distance so how long will it take we say you are going to drive 60 mph to Cleveland, 120 miles away, how long will it take? And yet people still get answers in the millions and assume nothing is wrong and happily hand in their papers expecting a good grade. I know this because, when they don't get it, they complain.

When people either can't be bothered or simply can't think to check their answers to see if they make sense with simple math, I am not at all surprised that they don't think critically about something they read on the internet. Numbers make it easy to spot when you've made a mistake; 10 and 100,000,000 are pretty different from each-other (a point people seem to forget when put in scientific notation, but I digress). But something more qualitative like 'how Google works' must be light years beyond many of these students' abilities to reason.

Whoo, I feel better. Sorry, it's been a long quarter. End-rant.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 1:50 PM on December 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sure, but schools ALSO need to teach this, because many parents either won't, can't, or don't bother to.

Agreed. But one way not to do this is: When a child of 5 or 6 asks how to spell, for instance, 'balloons', ask them what it sounds like, and when they struggle to identify some sounds they hear in the word and manage a B, an L, and an S, tell them that that's correct, and then suddenly in third grade introduce the concept of standardized spelling.

I think things like this are actually at the heart of the moron problem. What seems to be missing much of the time:

a) the concept that some things are binary: true or not-true, correct or incorrect (right or wrong? no such thing! things are only different!)
b) the ability to tell the difference between what one knows and what one doesn't know
c) the ability to figure out how to solve the problem of 'I don't know'

'C' is a definition of intelligence (from Piaget, I think - 'Intelligence is what you do when you don't know what to do'), but to my mind, all three of those things are behavioural and can be learned (in the cases where they aren't innate). And all three were not only not taught in the 'balloons' example (true story, personally observed in the school my daughter would have gone to if that hadn't happened), but actively undermined.

a) 'Is this how to spell this word?' 'It is if you think it is! For a few more years, anyway!'
b) A child who started off the conversation with the teacher knowing that she didn't know something was effectively told that her ignorance was knowledge, and that her (incorrect) guess was true
c) the child who was taking what I would have considered valid steps to solving the 'I don't know' problem (consulting an authority) was told by the authority that whatever she could figure out or invent for herself was as good an answer as she could get from the authority. Even a 'look it up' (even to an illiterate child) would have been less harmful than the approach that was taken.

And this was in a very highly regarded school, in a really good area, with really erudite parents, and the teacher/school was proud of this approach, which was applied universally (not just a one-off on the day I was there).

So yeah, the schools need to participate in making sure kids are capable of basic critical thinking and problem solving skills, but in some cases they are the cause of the problem, and not merely lots of little Dutch boys with their fingers in lots of dikes trying to do the best they can in spite of bad parenting or insidious cultural influences.

How can anyone be expected to exercise judgement (evaluate research, judge reliability of sources, etc.) if they can't even manage (a) through (c)?
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 2:25 PM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


...speaking as a public librarian I am continually amazed by how clueless many kids are when it comes to sources of information on the internet...

KIDS?!

At least kids think anything on the web might be true.

I'm sick of adults who PREFER shitty made-up sources of information, to the exclusion of authoritative sources.

-
posted by General Tonic at 2:32 PM on December 10, 2009


pwally: Uhh.. no. He was bullshitting and going through the motions...

FWIW I asked Mr. Zimmer whether the student might have in fact been pulling his leg; his reply (saving him the $5 for now):
The student confirmed that he was not pulling an elaborate hoax himself; he was indeed fooled, thinking the pigeon’s pecks were a kind of metaphor for numbers of clicks a website receives.
I admit this does not settle the matter.
posted by mr vino at 2:33 PM on December 10, 2009


The student confirmed that he was not pulling an elaborate hoax himself; he was indeed fooled, thinking the pigeon’s pecks were a kind of metaphor for numbers of clicks a website receives.

That answer is kind of ambiguous. At least one reading of it would imply that the student is, in fact, smarter than anyone is giving him credit for.
posted by roll truck roll at 3:09 PM on December 10, 2009


Wow. This kid hasn't been on the internet long enough to get into the habit of treating everything with a massive amount of suspicion. If you get even the slightest odd feeling about something, you're almost definitely being trolled (or reading an article about the current situation of the US justice/law enforcement system, these are exempt from this rule).
posted by tehloki at 4:05 PM on December 10, 2009


At least one reading of it would imply that the student is, in fact, smarter than anyone is giving him credit for.

I see what you mean; it's certainly an interesting way to view the concept, if you trust the source is legitimate, interpreting it as a metaphor makes it almost reasonable.
posted by davejay at 4:07 PM on December 10, 2009


At least one reading of it would imply that the student is, in fact, smarter than anyone is giving him credit for.

I see what you mean; it's certainly an interesting way to view the concept, if you trust the source is legitimate, interpreting it as a metaphor makes it almost reasonable.


I took it a bit differently, probably from rampant narcissism. It struck me that the thought process might be something like 'This makes no sense to me, but then I don't understand computers/programming/whatever anyway...' - an assumption, when faced with something that makes no sense, that he's the one at fault, that it probably makes sense to people who know about this sort of thing. Like an Emperor's New Clothes thing.

That explains the first maybe fifteen minutes of taking it straight. After that, reading all the way to the bottom or a second reference should have kicked in.
posted by magdalenstreetladies at 4:17 PM on December 10, 2009


What's a pidgeon?

A poker hand that beats a crouse.
posted by dhartung at 4:50 PM on December 10, 2009


We need to teach information literacy asking certain relevant questions as a core competency an indispensable survival skill for all students humans.

Questions like, "Do I understand what I have supposedly learned?" "Is that because it's nonsense, or is it just me?" "How else might I get a grip on it, assuming it isn't nonsense?" "Now that I understand it, does it square with what I know of reality?" "How might I find out whether the discrepancy is because of reality, or because of defects in my knowledge?" "So if it's so, what does that imply?"

This sounds all highbrow and abstract until you translate it into "Hunh?" and "Oh yeah?" and "So what?" These are natural, powerful questions. It's a shame they've mostly been relegated to blustery interpersonal drama. Ask them! Ask them a lot! And then answer them! Talk not to me of core competencies; this is what separates the humans from the chimps!
posted by eritain at 5:59 PM on December 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


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