John Locke in Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) states that everything we know is from experience. He identifies two fountains of all knowledge – “the observation of external sensible objects”, and ” the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by ourselves.” As a society, we extend the personal experience by reporting the fact of occurrences upon sensible objects such as news of events, scientific reporting, TV, Radio, The National Enquirer, gossip, blogging, etc. We also report the results of the internal operations of our minds, such as sermons, fiction, soap operas, symphonies, publications like Relativity, the Special and General Theory, and The Communist Manifesto.
Each of the sources of community experience comes with its own imprimatur and detractors. The New York Times reporting is considered very factual by many, but political conservatives consider it to be “just a liberal rag”. Those same folks believe that Fox News is “fair and balanced” while liberals decry it as “a conservative propaganda house”.
Educators have instructed their students to use “standard references” because internet sources like Wikipedia are not vetted by experts, and can contain information which is biased or conjectural. Using internet sources other than institutional ones, like cdc.gov, census.gov and redcross.org is verboten.
I believe that the orientation to “standard references” in K-12 education is fatally flawed. Much more important than factual accuracy in eighth grade reports is learning the skills to find and sift the truth in a information environment filled with spin and distortion. (more…)