It’s the mind and the world, stupid

Just read another bullshit article about how the internet means students don’t have to learn anything anymore. This seems to me the profound pedagogic, cognitive, and even epistemological fallacy of our time: that information access means information process. In other words–as I have been told by our school principal–the more “content” is just “available” (by which one mostly means online) the less one needs to learn. Cause after all, it’s all “right there,” just a click or a touch away, already. Rather, one needs to “learn how to learn,” or “participate in a community of learners,” or “master the right learning style” or whatever BS eduspeak buzz-phrase is in the air that week. A whole set of errors! For learning, knowledge acquisition, is by definition *extended*: that is, about something, directed toward some stuff in the world. This goes for “learning how to learn” too–it’s just that the stuff one gives learners under such a regime is reflexive and anemic, resulting in their predictable boredom and distaste, *especially* (this is almost the worst of it) if they are keen students! What is more: A book, too, makes information (if we are to use that word) available, right there. Ditto an utterance; ditto any data-set whatsoever. But the mere *presence-to-hand* of this potential knowledge does not mean its acquisition as real knowledge! Rather, one has to process it–open the book, read, puzzle, learn! How in the name of Pete does the mere *quantitative expansion of informational sites* magically negate the imperative toward cognitive work? It is as if one said that the British Library presented less of a learning imperative than a single copy of Cole’s Notes! ABSURD!

Author: JD Fleming

I am Professor of English Literature at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. My work is in intellectual history of the early-modern period (1500-1700), with a special interest in epistemic issues around the emergence of modern natural science (the "Scientific Revolution"). In 2012, I initiated the international conference series "Scientiae: Disciplines of Knowing in the Early Modern World."

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