30 April 2009

Voodoo Histories

To the RSA to hear David Aaronovitch talk about his new book 'Voodoo Histories' on conspiracy theories. In a world of rapidly proliferating information David argues for a 'true scepticism' based on historical knowledge and common sense to counter conspiracy theories. Amongst comments about perceptions of truth and asides about a 'Baudrillardian conspiracy', Matthew Taylor raised the issue of what implication conspiracies had for education.

In Britain, scepticism fits squarely into the ICT curriculum, in particular at Key Stage 3 (and under Jim Rose's proposals KS2) where children should be able to use technology to find and qualify information. My limited experience teaching KS3 tells me that scepticism in the modern or scientific sense is hard to foster. "I found it on google/wikipedia, sir" translates as "It must be right...".

I have more success with scepticism when teaching media where it is possible to consider issues like narrative and history. In media lessons, children learn ICT by stealth - they hardly know they're doing it. Practical application makes it apparent that anything produced comes with a point of view and that objectivity is hard to achieve and not necessarily what's intended. But of course media is not a core subject where ICT is.

ICT should not be the locus for teaching scepticism which should be (David is right) a core competency for a modern teenager and straddle their approach to science, literature, history and living in the real world. Trying to teach it within ICT emphasises the weakness of trying to teach ICT as an isolated subject. Many children do not make the connection between the various subjects they learn nor do they see how technology might both support this or be used to deceive them. We are not using technology effectively for it to be seen as worthwhile for young people and to support critical thinking. Meanwhile, reality media becomes the predominant genre for factual communication.

Of course, the RSA 'Opening Minds' curriculum also has scepticism at the heart of several of its competancy strands but I have not yet had a chance to observe this in action.

No comments:

Post a Comment