Video: Mark Bauerlein on American History by Google and Wikipedia


Mark Bauerlein joins Andy Nash to speak about his recent talk in Princeton, “American History by Google and Wikipedia.” The talk was part of the summer program of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Bauerlein is a professor at Emory University and an author. This is his second appearance on the program.

Key Take-Aways

  • 2:35 – What’s wrong with History by Google and Wikipedia? (3 mins)
  • 6:00 – Shortcuts because you can (1 min)
  • 7:30 – Education as the formation of minds (1 min)
  • 10:10 – Do it without the computer, learn more (2 mins)
  • 14:07 – Realizing the hard way was the better way. (2 mins)
  • 17:00 – The not-so neutral impact of technology (2 mins)


Andy’s Show Notes:

Mercenary education is stronger today than ever before.  Complete the assignment by rushing to the sources of information, slap them together (in some cases plagiarize), and call it a paper.  Finding your sources via a search engine, almost always Google, leading you to a reference page, almost always first and foremost Wikipedia, is the extent of research work by most students today.

To be sure, searching for your information is separate from reading it.  But the first page of search engine results and quick reference sites do not do justice for exhausting a search, and in many ways limit you from finding any number of items you may discover to be relevant but would otherwise not have come across from your key-word search.  Moreover, finding half a dozen sources or so, without thorough examination of materials does not earn one the right to discern what is in fact relevant or even accurate.  Spending time reading linear dense text in books and newspapers and articles and thinking about them forces the mind to synthesize and more thoroughly contemplate the information being discovered.  But students today do not seem to spend much more time reading than they do searching.

But to be fair, don’t we all resort to Google or Wikipedia when we want to find something out?  If all we’re looking for are some quick reference facts, then sure, that may be fine.  But is that what education is supposed to be?

Mark Bauerlein explains that education is supposed to be the formation of minds and dispositions.  Education was not about writing quick short bursts of text that you found with key-word searches and shortcuts, as is more common place today.  When you stack-searched in a library, went through rolls of microfiche, you came across the countless other sources and items particular to the topic area or historical time period you were researching and got a deeper and wider scope of information than the half dozen sources immediately appearing in a Google search.  Education is supposed to be concerned with the intellectual impact on the mind from doing an assignment, not haphazardly throwing together disconnected facts lifted from a hodge-podge of instantly found sources.  The activity itself of finding materials and critically reading them is a process, an activity that is far more important than the mere exchange of data.

Dr. Bauerlein admits that about only 10% of his students come to an appreciation of searching for their work the hard or “old-fashioned” way.  He states that most of them sense their “hyper-connected digitalized lives are not all they are intellectually cracked up to be”, and that they sense these “tools, which are often passed off as high-powered intellectual educational tools, really are just social tools to ease their ways through their studies”.  He explains that some students realize that if you truly want to become intellectual and learned, you have to spend the time not only looking for, but thoroughly reading what is out there and not settle for some quick and easy answer.  But still, most take a mercenary approach and just want to get through the assignment, the class, the grade, the school.  This is the case in high schools and for many in college.

The cornerstone of a free and democratic republic, and the individual responsibility that goes with it, is an educated citizenry.  Whether the subject is American History or anything else, an important lesson in education is that the speed in which we rotate facts does not make us any smarter, and certainly not any wiser.  What happens as students continue trying to learn via Google and Wikipedia?  Find out in our interview with Dr. Mark Bauerlein, on Inside Academia.

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