The following passage, from Tim O’Reilly‘s musings on the question, Pattern Recognition, made me reflect about the challenges of staying ‘educated’ and being and ‘educator’ in our ever-shifting culture:
“It used to be the case that there was a canon, a body of knowledge shared by all educated men and women. Now, we need the skills of a scout, the ability to learn, to follow a trail, to make sense out of faint clues, and to recognize the way forward through confused thickets. We need a sense of direction that carries us onward through the wood despite our twists and turns. We need “soft eyes” that take in everything we see, not just what we are looking for.
The information river rushes by. Usenet, email, the world wide web, RSS, twitter: each generation carrying us faster than the one before. But patterns remain.
You can map a river as well as you can map a mountain or a wood. You just need to remember that the sandbars may have moved the next time you come by.”
This is at the heart of the challenge for schools. We do need to ‘map’ and assist students chart their courses but, it is fundamental to our role, that we keep remembering, the map is not necessarily the territory. *
I continue to enjoy daily missives from Seth Godin, ostensibly an advertising and business ‘guru’, increasingly the source of some practical, coherent thinking about the impact of the internet on society. His latest blog post, about libraries, illustrates the point made by O’Reilly:
Once again, the net turns things upside down. The information is free now. No need to pool tax money to buy reference books. What we need to spend the money on are leaders, sherpas and teachers who will push everyone from kids to seniors to get very aggressive in finding and using information and in connecting with and leading others.
Godin’s notion of a ‘sherpa’ guiding others to the top of a well-known territory works for me. Funnily enough, although it more poignant for me than I care to detail, this made me think of a Michael Leunig cartoon, from many years ago, that really impacted on me significantly at a critical juncture in my life.
Learning is similar. Triumphs have a way of just leading the thoughtful learner to more questing, often with a nagging sense that there’s just nowhere near enough time to explore all that fascinates (or is needed).
What mountains to climb then? Is that the question a skilful teacher or librarian will be able to help their students understand, as they ascend?
Enough of the sherpa thing.
The map has changed. The internet has changed the way we think, as we envision and navigate the unfolding text of our culture. The river will always have new sandbars; it flows rapidly. We need to be mindful that our old maps do not flush students into an ocean that is no longer there.