kitchen table math, the sequel: Marissa Mayer is misinformed

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Marissa Mayer is misinformed


Marissa Mayer: It's not what you know, it's what you can find out. The Internet has put at the forefront resourcefulness and critical-thinking and relegated memorization of rote facts to mental exercise or enjoyment. Because of the abundance of information and this new emphasis on resourcefulness, the Internet creates a sense that anything is knowable or findable — as long as you can construct the right search, find the right tool, or connect to the right people. The Internet empowers better decision-making and a more efficient use of time.

  1. There was an "abundance of information" available before the internet, too, yet somehow nobody thought that the presence of a World Book Encyclopedia in your house meant you didn't have to know anything.
  2. Interesting that Mayer sees "memorization of rote facts" as something you might do as a form of "mental exercise" or for "enjoyment." She's right! Learning stuff is fun! Thinking, on the other hand, is not fun. Not for the most part. 
  3. Better decision-making and more efficient use of time...I have no way of guessing whether either of those things is true (I'm skeptical of the first claim), but the internet is beyond fantastic for writers. Ed is writing his textbook now, and he can't believe how easy it is to find the sources and information he needs. As a historian working with primary documents, he hadn't really joined the JSTOR revolution. Now he has, and he's amazed.
  4. Speaking of JSTOR, the general public needs access, too
Former Reddit co-owner founder arrested for excessive JSTOR downloads


Portlander said...

Sheesh. A cynical person would point out that Google is notorious for putting a thumb on their search results. If one has to rely on Google to get facts every time facts are needed, well that's giving Google an enormous amount of power to bias perceptions.

It's not a whole lot different than the mainstream media running pictures of a 12 y.o. Trayvon Martin in a football uniform instead of a 17 y.o. Trayvon Martin smoking a joint and sticking out his middle fingers on Facebook.

So yes, all the facts you need to know Walter Duranty, er... Walter Cronkite, er... The Googleplex will deliver.

Anonymous said...

Not only that; but a person who has a good knowledge base in a field or topic will get much better information out of Google (or any search engine) than an uninformed person will.

Anonymous said...

So if I can look up the translation of an English word into Spanish, that's as a good as being able to speak Spanish?

I think not.

Crimson Wife said...

Ms. Mayer was my husband's classmate at Stanford and a year ahead of me (he actually knew her personally back then and couldn't stand her but that's a different thread). If I had to guess, she's probably thinking back to the difference between the "memorize, regurgitate on exams, and forget" approach of typical K-12 schooling and the kind of applied problem-solving & critical thinking that Stanford courses required. It was a HUGE adjustment for me during my freshman year, as it was for many of the folks I knew in college.

HOWEVER, I do think there is really something to the whole classical education notion of the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages. In order to do the higher-level thinking in a subject, one has to first learn the "grammar" of it. My K-12 schooling was all grammar and no logic or rhetoric. Today it seems like schools are trying to skip the grammar & leap directly into the higher-level skills. I think there needs to be the "happy medium" in between the two extremes.

momof4 said...

Demanding mastery in the grammar stage will generate differences in outcomes, and those outcomes will be magnified in the next stages. The lower end will fail in the logic stage and many of the middle will fail in the rhetoric stage. PBL, especially in groups, allows the pretense that "all" are learning. The fact that it is false and dishonest is ignored.

For the anti-constructivists among us: Over at Right on the Left Coast, there's a discussion of the CC and the Math Wars, with a comment link to an interesting study of how students from a non-traditional HS math curriculum (Core Plus)did in college math, compared to the traditional curriculum - ouch!

SteveH said...

"The Internet has put at the forefront resourcefulness and critical-thinking and relegated memorization of rote facts to mental exercise or enjoyment."

How resourceful is Googling? It turns up mere facts and analyses that could have particular spins to them. How, exactly, does that help critical thinking? How do you separate the good information from the bad? You have to know something first. The internet won't give you critical thinking powers, and eliminting whatever is left of memorization in K-12 won't do the job either because it's not replaced by good critical thinking stuff. It's like the calculator. They don't use it as an empowering tool. They use it as an avoidance tool.

Has anyone made a list of things (facts and skills) that one should know? Obviously, you have to know some things, like who is your governor and representatives. Are some saying that people don't have to know the states and capitals? What is the look-up cutoff point? What is the difference between a factoid, like the capital of Nevada versus memorizing at least some sequence of history? Has anyone done a study of how often people look up things they don't know? I look up lots of things. I think the internet is wonderful. But what about all of those people who might not know many things? Are these people really going to look up that much stuff?

It would be one thing if the constructivist crowd actually set high expectations, but that's rarely the case. And, even if they did set high expectations, memorization, which is a very effective tool for many, is completely discounted.

Like 21st century skills, the public discussion of these things goes on at a very superficial level. I would be more than happy to talk about the details of constructivist or Harkness Table approaches, but the public blog-world and e-media never get to that level.

It's telling that many discount the Core Knowledge Curriculum. Clearly, there are fundamental differences of opinion. Clearly, there should be more school choice. Clearly, our state's educational administration should not reject charter schools based on differences of opinion, but they do.

Auntie Ann said...

I lived on JSTOR and similar sites a couple of years ago. We were in a battle with our kids school and began pulling journal articles supporting our position. In the end, we were better educated than the educators, gave them a stack of articles literally 6 inches high, and showed them the error of their ways. It didn't help our kid, but a year or two later, the school changed and came around.

Google Scholar (yes, google) is a great resource for parents.