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!