a filter for life

November 5th, 2009

There was a movement within the Norwegian education system at one point to emphasize the goal that kids in school should be critical. More than that, it should be the goal of the education system to teach us to be read critically. Don't take everything you hear as gospel. This was back when I was still in junior high, so a good 15 years back. I don't know if this theme is still current today, but at the very least it made a good pass through the common consciousness at one point.

So why did this come about? Well, in the early 90s television was privatized. There had been cable tv for a number of years already, but in 1992 the channel TV2, the first commercial tv station to broadcast nationally, alongside the state broadcaster NRK, was launched. Effectively, television was let go from under the control of the rather insular NRK and freed to be driven by commercial profit. Naturally, TV2 in short order proceeded to import all of the popular culture, chiefly American, that has informed our lives. Another characteristic of TV2, quite unlike NRK -- the absolute sterility of any form of even mild intellectualism. (Aside from NRK which may have as much as 2-3 weekly hours of programming suited to the more discerning viewer, provided the topic is up your street.)

Another big development in the mid and late 90s, of course -- wide access to the internet. Here again is a brand new medium with immense amounts of information and culture "beamed" right into our homes.

I feel it was these two developments that formed the impetus behind this fashion within the education system. All of a sudden students would be writing essays using web pages for sources that, believe it or not, were just incorrect. :eek: Oh noes, something has to be done! And so it began. The internet is not trustworthy. You can't believe everything you read. The deeper reasoning behind this is the question of motive. More important than what they are saying; why are they saying it? Back in my junior high days we received the dumbed down version (as, actually, with everything in junior high). The question was framed in terms of sources. This source is reliable, because it's Encyclopedia Britannica. This source is not, because it's a web page, or I heard it on tv. Never mind who gets to decide what is reliable and why.

Of course, the truth, as your astute self would have figured out by now, is that nothing is in and of itself trustworthy. It's not just when you go online that you find garbage. There's just as much garbage in books, in what your teachers tell you, in what your parents tell you, and above all in what your peers tell you. You need to be critical of all this stuff, not just of those crazy people on the internet.

I'm inadvertently rehashing Jürgen's argument here. I read his entry and didn't give it any more thought, but perhaps my subconsciousness has been chewing on it ever since? Thanks, Jürgen.

Naturally, some people are just malicious, but that is not the main problem. Even if you do have a piece of insight that you honestly believe is beneficial to someone, there are still a lot of things that can go wrong:

  1. You're plain mistaken.
  2. It works for you, but it doesn't work for everyone.
  3. Even though you have the right idea, you fail to communicate it effectively.

The last one is particularly unfortunate. How many times has someone told you that they've just this discovered this new thing and it's everything they needed, and then you say "but I told you that already a long time ago!". Well, I guess you didn't tell me in the words that I needed to hear in order to absorb the information, or in order to be convinced.

Parental advice, of course, is susceptible to the same flaw as those self help books. I'm sure you've seen some of those around, the basic premise is always the same -- some person has figured out how to do something and wants to tell everyone. The problem is that just because it worked for him, doesn't mean it will work for you. Especially when you hear it from a secondary source (a relative comes up and says "I read this amazing book, it changed my life, all you have to do is.."). But it's not science. At best it "sorta works a lot of the time, kind of".

So over time you develop a filter. "This person is not worth listening to on these topics, this book is written by someone who has no idea what he's talking about, this website is usually reliable on these issues". Now everything depends on that filter of yours. You may find one day that you bought into some utter nonsense, or that you discarded good insight.

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