The printing press changed our relationship with knowledge and sparked the Protestant Reformation, which one could say helped bring about the Enlightenment and all of those scientific advances (such as real medicine) that we now take for granted. As John Naughton, of The Observer, says of a UK study on information seeking:
“The study confirms what many are beginning to suspect: that the web is having a profound impact on how we conceptualise, seek, evaluate and use information. What Marshall McLuhan called ‘the Gutenberg galaxy’ – that universe of linear exposition, quiet contemplation, disciplined reading and study – is imploding, and we don’t know if what will replace it will be better or worse. But at least you can find the Wikipedia entry for ‘Gutenberg galaxy’ in 0.34 seconds.”
The Web is changing everything, whether we like it or not; much as the printing press did, to the dismay of the established church.
As books are to subjects and disciplines, the Web is to processes. David Weinberger says that Everything is Miscellaneous, and in our interconnected world it sure is. That means that ALL subjects in school or university are miscellaneous and it doesn’t really matter what you study. It matters how you study and what you can do with your knowledge.
Even medicine is miscellaneous. The other day we were discussing a diagnosis with an orthopedic surgeon and the first question he asked was, “I’m sure that you’ve researched this, so what have you found out on the Internet?” In one miscellaneous area, we could have been more knowledgeable than a specialist, and he wanted to check.
On Sunday I listened to a discussion on the radio about the need for teaching black history and more ethnically diverse subjects in school. These educated people were discussing symptoms without addressing the cause because a subject-based curriculum will always be based on the wrong subjects for some people. Without a subject-centric curriculum, teachers could choose the appropriate subject matter for their particular class and the school system could concentrate on ensuing that students have mastered the important processes. Some of the processes that readily come to mind are critical thinking, analysing data, researching, communicating ideas, creating new things, etc.
All fields of knowledge are expanding and artificial boundaries between disciplines are disintegrating. Our education system needs to drop the whole notion of subjects and content mastery and move to process-oriented learning. The subject matter should be something of interest to the learner or something a teacher, with passion, is motivated to teach. The subject does not matter, it’s just grist for the cognitive mill.
Discussing ‘what’ subjects we should teach is the 21st Century equivalent of determining how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The answer is infinite. The real debate in education is whether we need linear, book oriented curriculum at all.