I’m not sure about you, but I am swimming in a sea of information about everything. I get up to speed with the latest business information on Twitter, Facebook tells me what’s going on with my friends and family, I get informed about the news of the world through a variety of websites and TV shows, I grow my source of knowledge by reading a wide-range of topics from politics and religion to media consumption and propaganda, and let’s not forget the daily outpouring of social gossip. Information is abundant, we consume it, and eventually move on to the next juicy morsel.
Education, for kids and adults, on the other hand is daily becoming deficient as social networks and technological advancements increase the real-time flow of information. If education is “the act of developing the powers of reason and judgment” (Dictionary.com), how does the amount of information and speed of delivery impact that educational process? How do we learn to make informed decisions upon all of the information that is available to us? In record amounts of time no less?
A Sobering View of the Consumption of Information
In How to Watch TV News, authors Neil Postman and Steve Powers quote some sobering statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding the amount of television that kids watch in their lifetime:
In America, despite warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics about the fact that 40 percent of three-month-olds watch TV or videos an average of forty-five minutes a day, or five hours a week, and children between the ages of two and twelve watch an average of twenty-five hours of television per week. The young ones watch about five thousand hours before entering the first grade, and by high school’s end the average American youngster has clocked nineteen thousand hours in front of a TV set. The same youngster will have spent only thirteen thousand hours in school, assuming that he or she is regular in attendance. What it comes down to is that American children spend 30 percent of their waking hours in front of a television set.
19,000 hours in front of a TV set and only 13,000 hours in a classroom? This doesn’t bode well for students learning to discern, process and analyze the information that bombards them.
What would the numbers look like if you added internet, social networks and mobile apps usage? The gap between education and information would no doubt continue to grow.
Does Education Really Matter?
Depth of understanding, reason, knowledge and wisdom matter. The only ways to foster and grow in those areas is through education and time, which happen to be the main enemies of an abundant culture of information. Education, the imparting of reason and judgment to others, is imperative in today’s society because if we never learn to critically think for ourselves, we will become the victims of those that will gladly think for us: corporations, governments, politicians, authority figures, news pundits, and those that seek to manipulate others.
Education takes time, and time is the only true way to look at the long-term effects of the pursuit of reason and judgment. You can’t just expect to know all that there is to know about a subject in a 140 character tweet or even a 1,000 word blog entry. You need to know how to read beyond the particular viewpoint of the author, recognize their manipulation of statistics, question the quoting of quantitative analysis without giving context or the results of the particular study, and most importantly, identify any or all propaganda.
Educational Filters for Informational Floods
As schools and universities struggle to keep up with the declining interest in funding and pursuing education, we need to take an active interest in learning how to better educate ourselves. The best way to do this is to learn how to create filters for the floods of information that bombard us. By learning to tune our eyes and ears to keywords and phrases, we can sift through the raging waters in order to find the gold. But even then we need to process and check the gold to make sure that it is not fool’s gold.
After all, if you are willing to take anything from a stream of information without checking it against your own sense of reason and judgment, you are in danger of becoming the fool. And no one wants that.