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Why Johnny Can't Tweet

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The Post-Fact Era is challenging basic assumptions about educational methods and curriculum. Joel Postman asks if there is a place at the table for social media education.

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Should Social Media Be Taught In Primary School?

Interesting news comes out of the UK about a possible change in primary school educational priorities, shifting attention and resources from subjects like history and math in favor of what might be called Web 2.0 1.0. Britain’s Daily Mail reported March 25 “primary schools could ditch traditional lessons in favour of teaching children how to use social networking sites such as Twitter,” under a proposal made by “Sir Jim Rose following a request from Children's Secretary Ed Balls.”

The Mail goes on to report that a leaked draft of the proposal was branded in some circles as “dangerous,” “and an assault on knowledge, while critics said children were accustomed to using modern media at home and needed no encouragement at school.”

Living in the Post-Fact Era

We are living in what some have referred to as the “post-fact era.” This has been hard for me to deal with. I’m a prescriptive person. I believe there are rules, and things that are “known.” If nothing can be “known to be true,” then what is the point of learning anything? In truth, no fact is irreversibly, unquestionably true.

In the Woody Allen film Sleeper, a test subject awakens to a future in which scientists have determined that cheeseburgers and milkshakes are the healthiest of all foods. How far fetched is this? The earth turned out not to be flat and not at the center of the universe. While Einstein is known for for defining the photoelectric effect, he disproved more of his own theories and those of others in his lifetime than he ever proved. The scientific method can never prove anything; it can only fail to disprove it.

There is more than one way to teach even what we think of as fact-based subjects. Western medicine and Chinese herbal medicine, for example, often “teach” two opposing views, but both have proven equally valid. More importantly, researchers have found there is no need to wait an hour after eating before going swimming.

What Is the “Best” Kind of Curriculum?

This Post-Fact Era is challenging basic assumptions about educational methods and curriculum. But let us not act hastily by assuming the solution is to teach the latest online fad in schools.

One thing we should be vigilant against is the dumbing down of curriculum, which means, no surprise, the dumbing down of students and of the population. Post-modern educators might argue that instead of spoon feeding students a standard, classical curriculum, that education should instead prepare students to succeed “in real life.” What good does it do, some educators ask, to tell children about the Battle of Hastings if it does not prepare them to enter the workforce? How will the Iliad and the Odyssey help them balance their checking accounts?

But if we teach tools instead of concepts and critical thinking, we risk producing a nation of technically proficient typists and bookkeepers, and not the philosophers, statesmen, and artists who can lead and inspire us to greatness.

What Things Inherently Don’t Need To Be Taught in School?

Many things are either so intuitive that they can be largely self-taught, or take five minutes of instruction and years of practice (like riding a bike or tying a shoe), that they have no place in school.

In 1984, my first Macintosh computer arrived. I had never seen a Mac, a mouse, or a graphical user interface before. I opened the box, set up the computer and was writing in MacWrite and painting in MacPaint in minutes. Fast forward, and I watched as my daughter recently mastered Firefox and MS Word in about 10 minutes each.

Some things are such a part of daily life that they also do not require valuable classroom time. As the Daily Mail points out, there’s enough exposure outside of the classroom to the use of online tools that formal classroom education is superfluous.

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