In the last few decades of the twentieth century, something strange happened in schools and colleges. A boxy shaped thing called a “BBC Computer” started to appear. It had a big screen, a bit like a television, and it came with a keyboard. At first, we looked in horror at this strange new thing. We had just about accepted that we could go past dabbing tippex on our documents, and edit on a typewriter. Now we were looking at something completely different. The keyboard keys were big, and bulky, and touch typing suddenly became a skill to have, as did coding. The disks that came with the strange new machines were floppy and extremely temperamental. The software was the same. If you ever used Word Perfect you will know how difficult it used to be to word process. Around the same time, or maybe a bit before, children got Christmas presents where you could blip a tiny dot from one side of a screen to another. This was extremely exciting, since no one had ever seen this kind of thing before.
Fast forward a few years, and people start to mention something strange and new called “The Internet”. Some guy called Tim has conjured up a thing that might mean you never have to look anything up in a book anymore. Instead of having to spend hours in the library, researching an article, you can download stuff from something called “the web”. Someone has made a basic website, and you look at it in amazement. It has all the details that you used to have to look up in a phone book, in one place! When the kids get their hands on this stuff in school, without firewalls, you get the first glimpse of the potential, and the dangers, of this new medium. Around the same time, some people start shouting into large phones in the street. (Later on, a comedian called Dom Joly will make a career out of how ridiculous this looked.) For years and years, the phones only have keys, but then one day someone puts a screen on them. A new magic has arrived.
These days, people go on search engines, and social media sites, and they make decisions based on what they see. They just do. We are past the point where people are not going to do this, even if we’d prefer that they don’t. This generation of children have grown up in a world where computers, the Internet, and smart phones have always existed. That is their reality and we’re not going to change that. The world is accelerating into something that is going to be very hard to deal with. And if we don’t teach our children how to handle the storm that is brewing, we are doing them a disservice. While arguments rage about knowledge versus skills, or direct instruction versus project based learning. we are at the point where Donald Trump might become President of the United States, and where people don’t understand how the rule of law works. If we don’t teach our kids how to read the Internet properly, how to evaluate what they find, then we are failing in our duty. We can get them to memorise facts as much as we want to; pass on the cultural capital of our choice. But if they’re going to “Just Google It”, then we have to teach them how that works.