Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The problem with the internet for home educated children

I said yesterday that research on the internet posed special problems for some home educated children. Of course, it is not only home educated children who get a lot of their information from the internet and to illustrate the problem clearly, we shall look first at something which happened recently at a secondary school. The pupils had been told to research on the internet about America’s first inhabitants. One girl turned up at the next lesson with a lot of impressive looking stuff from a university website. She had discovered that the ancestors of the native Americans were in fact Jews who arrived in the country about 500 BC. She had also found a link to an academic article about supposed DNA evidence which backed up this mad idea. Here is one of the sources of her knowledge:

     Actually, it all sounds very plausible and if it were not for the fact that I know Mormonism to be raving mad, I might almost be persuaded myself by all this fancy, scientific language!

     Now fortunately, the teacher was able to put her right about this and explain that Brigham Young University was not the best place to go to for information on this topic. For him to do this though, he needed to have a good deal of prior knowledge about the subject. He needed to know about the Clovis People, the land bridge over the Bering Strait and also a bit about the beliefs of Mormonism. In other words, the teacher was able to guide the child to a correct understanding of the implausibility of what she had found during her research; not withstanding the fact that she had been getting the information from a university. Left to herself, the girl had gone hopelessly astray. Of course, she should ideally have cross-checked what she had found at Brigham Young with various other sources and perhaps visited the library as well to look at a few books. Teenagers aren’t always like that though and many take the first thing they read as being true; as long as it is from a university and contains many long words.

     Consider the case of a home educated child whose parents might not know  about the origin of humans in the Americas or anything about Mormonism. If their child announced that she had learned that the aboriginal inhabitants of America were from the Middle East, they might not have the knowledge to set her straight. It is entirely possible that the child could stumble across this nonsense and then go off believing it to be true. Of course, if the child were to be told that this was not the true history of America and urged to look more deeply into the subject, she might be able to get the matter a little clearer. But why would she do so if she believed the first site that she came across?  In other words, just roaming around the internet and picking up information in this way without the guidance of a knowledgeable adult is not really the best way to learn things. This is of course because the internet contains an awful lot of misleading and downright untruthful information. 

     There is a strand in modern British home education which holds that the internet is the ideal place for  children to acquire information. Indeed, some believe that a child can more or less educate herself without any guidance, provided that she is given unlimited access to the internet. This is a mistaken view.  Without a teacher and guide to correct errors and set the child along the right path to knowledge, there are too many pitfalls to make this a suitable mode of education. Certainly, the child might bring some of the idiotic things she learns on the internet to her parents, thus giving them a chance to put her right. But there are still likely to be many things which remain uncorrected; urban myths, old wives’ tales and downright fabrications.  This is why most educators feel the need for a skeleton framework of knowledge to ensure that the child acquires the basics in a sound way. Once this is in place and suitable research techniques have been taught, the child will be less at  hazard from falling into beliefs such as that native Americans are really the descendants of the Children of Israel!


  1. "the internet contains an awful lot of misleading and downright untruthful information."

    No sh*t, Sherlock!

  2. The internet - like any medium - is used to propagate an awful lot of rubbish; sometimes mistakenly, sometimes deliberately. The particular example given by Simon illustrates the danger of religion in education; state schools do the same thing in their morning assemblies and RE classes, while so-called faith schools try to go further.

    Apart from its inherent nonsense, the religious element in school education can suppress curiosity and scepticism. I remember some teachers getting very angry when probed about faith, while the more "modern" ones encouraged such questioning - but with the subtext that the answer would always be the same.

    Ideally, teachers would perform as Simon has suggested, guiding their pupils to develop critical, analytical judgement; reality, sadly, is somewhat different.

  3. While I agree to a point about the dangers of learning from the internet, many - possibly most - school teachers aren't in a strong position if they havent had extensive experience practising their subject in real applications. There are certainly some who invest intellectual effort in understanding and conveying their subject, but they're a minority.

    Increasingly, teachers themselves seem to be scouring the internet for material. That's not bad in itself, but when they lack intelligent, questioning judgement, the problem is amplified.

  4. "Without a teacher and guide to correct errors and set the child along the right path to knowledge, there are too many pitfalls to make this a suitable mode of education."

    Would this be like my high school science teacher who confidently stated that the work performed in travelling (e.g., walking, cycling) was equal to the force, F, due to gravity on the object, times distance travelled, d, so:

    E = Fd

    and, for a mass m and gravitational acceleration g,
    F=mg, so that

    E = mgd


  5. 'Increasingly, teachers themselves seem to be scouring the internet for material. That's not bad in itself, but when they lack intelligent, questioning judgement, the problem is amplified.'

    Quite true. I know several schools that are scrapping their libraries because they claim that only the internet is now needed. And you are right; many teachers now rely solely upon the internet for information.

  6. 'Would this be like my high school science teacher'

    I wasn't of course suggesting that all teachers were clever and wise! They are bound to make mistakes, just like the rest of us. I think that a history teacher is likely to know more about history than the average parent, though. I must remind readers that I am not in any way acting as a cheerleader for schools. It will be recalled that my youngest daughter did not set foot in school for a single day.

  7. I was going to say much the same as everyone else. We use the Usborne and DK quick links a lot of the time because they're pre-vetted. And then, for fun, we see who can find the weirdest theory on line. Not only am I a sceptic, I am training up two more!

    And in the five years my daughter schooled or flexi-schooled she was told a lot of rubbish by staff. My favourite 'maybe this child doesn't belong in that setting' moment was when she'd corrected her head teacher, very politely and privately, because what she'd said about the Hadron Collider in an assembly didn't tally with what she'd read in New Scientist. You wouldn't believe the fuss they made because an 8 year old was reading her Daddy's New Scientist. You'd have thought it came from the top shelf...

    The problem was that the more she realised how little her teachers knew about her favourite subjects, the more sceptical she got about everything she was being told and the less respect she had for them. She may also have enjoyed tying them up in knots and derailing lessons by asking questions she knew they couldn't answer. Don't know where she could have inherited that trait from...


  8. "I wasn't of course suggesting that all teachers were clever and wise!"

    The mistake I described was at an elementary level and conceptually very important. My first reaction was to question my own understanding - this was forty years ago, long before the advent of the internet and the school library was off limits! Figuring this out for myself taught me an awful lot - and I don't mean merely the very basic physics.

    If there are problems with the capabilities of home educators, then let's not forget that most of them probably went to school.

  9. ӏt's appropriate time to make a few plans for the long run and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you few interesting things or advice. Maybe you can write next articles relating to this article. I desire to learn more issues about it!

    Here is my web blog; авиабилеты украина

  10. Juѕt desіre to say youг aгticle
    is as surpгiѕing. Τhe claгіtу in
    your рost is just spectасular anԁ і could assume yοu aге an
    expert on this subject. Fine with youг pегmіssion
    let me to grab yοur RSS feed to keеp uρ to date
    ωith foгthcoming post. Thanks a mіllion and pleаse сontinue the rewarding work.

    Feel freе to surf tο my web blog .


  11. Ι was reсommended this blog through my cοuѕin.
    I'm not positive whether or not this post is written via him as no one else understand such precise about my trouble. You'гe incrеdіble!
    Тhank yοu!

    Heгe іs my blog pοst; авиабилеты украина

  12. Hi there just wanteԁ to giνe you a bгief heaԁs up
    anԁ let you know а few оf the pictures
    aren't loading properly. I'm not sure why but I thіnk its
    a linking iѕsue. I've tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.

    my page ... бронирование авиабилетов

  13. Οh mу gooԁneѕs! Impreѕѕіve
    aгtіcle duԁe! Thanks, Howeνer I am havіng issuеs wіth уour RSЅ.
    I don't understand the reason why I can't ѕubscribe tо it.
    Ιѕ there anyboԁу elѕе gettіng thе same
    RSS prоblems? Anyοne who knоωs the answеr will you κindlу гesрond?


    Stop by my wеb pаge горящие туры отдых горящие путевки туры в египет туры в турцию туры

  14. I am гegulaг reader, hoω are yοu everyboԁy?
    This artiсle posted аt this web
    pаge is truly good.

    Feеl fгee to surf tο my blog post ::

  15. I rarely leave a resрonsе, but i diԁ some searchіng and wound up herе "The problem with the internet for home educated children".
    And I actually do have 2 questions foг you
    if you uѕuаllу do not mіnd.
    Ϲould it be ѕimply me or does it аρpear liκe ѕomе of these comments aρpear likе they are written by brain dead folks?
    :-P And, іf you aгe posting on other online social ѕitеs, I'd like to follow everything fresh you have to post. Could you list of all of your social pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

    Review my weblog - сайт дешевых авиабилетов

  16. Goοd ԁау! I knoω this іs somеwhat off
    tорic but I was ωondeгing ωhіch
    blog рlаtform аrе you using for this sіte?

    I'm getting sick and tired of Wordpress because I've hаd pгoblems ωith hackers and I'm looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

    My site :: горящие туры отдых горящие путевки туры в египет туры в турцию туры

  17. Ahaa, its niсe converѕаtiоn on the topic
    of thіs article herе at this webpagе,
    I haѵe read аll that, sο at thiѕ time me also соmmenting here.

    my weblog ... авиабилеты по украине

  18. I don't know whether it's just me or if peгhaps everyone else encountering problems with your blog.
    It appearѕ as if some of thе written text in your content are running off thе ѕcrеen.

    Can someone else ρlease proѵide feedback and let me know іf this is
    haрpening to them too? Thiѕ may bе а pгoblem with my internet
    brοwѕeг beсause I've had this happen before. Thanks

    my homepage; стоимость авиабилетов

  19. Μagnifіcent beat ! I woulԁ like to apprentiсe while you amend yоur
    site, how cοuld i subsсribe foг а blog site?

    The аccount hеlped me a aсceрtable deal.

    I haԁ been tiny bit acquaіntеd of this yоur brοadcast ρroviԁeԁ bright cleаг сoncept

    Feel free to ѕurf to my weblog; Авиабилеты в сочи из барнаула

  20. Thanks for sharing yоur thoughtѕ. I reallу apρreciate yоur
    efforts and I am waiting for your next post thаnk уou once again.

    Here іs my ρagе: авиабилеты в Симферополь

  21. Fantastic goods from you, man. I've understand your stuff previous to and you are just too wonderful. I really like what you've
    acquired here, certainly like what you are saying and the way in which you say it.

    You make it entertaining and you still care for to keep it wise.
    I can't wait to read far more from you. This is actually a great site.

    Also visit my blog Http://Safedietplans.Com