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Op-ed: The next generation needs a compass for Internet

Published February 26, 2014 10:11 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Internet is without direction. Wave after wave of information breaks across the consciousness of the digital user. Users are flooded with bits of information without coherence or direction.

An unspoken premise of the Internet is each viewer will decide the accuracy and validity of the information they are surfing. Not surprisingly, many Internet surfers seek waves of information that reinforce their prejudices and unproven views.

Newspapers, their editors and writers, traditionally have given shape or cohesion to events near and far. Put another way, by their training and experience they know East from West and North from South (NEWS).

If one examines the shrinking size and content of today's printed medium, the effort to imitate the directionless Internet is clear. The Associated Press used to be pleased when its writers wrote two or, at the most, three articles per day. The new standard is at least 25 pieces (I won't dignify them by calling them "articles") and none should be more than 150 words.

Without a sense of direction, citizens are often left wandering and wondering what the events of today mean to them and those dear to them. How are individuals without direction going to make informed decisions about matters which will shape their lives?

As an example, in an ironic political cross current, citizens are now being given "the opportunity" to manage their own retirement funds. We are getting away from the "big brother" Roosevelt Social Security and allowing our directionless wandering to be influenced by slick, Madison Avenue-produced advertisements paid for by brokers and other Wall Street insiders who, unlike us, benefit when the market goes up and when it comes down. One can imagine the results in the not-too-distant future.

How do we establish a compass for the Internet? We begin with our children. Beginning in kindergarten, and continuing through high school and college, we need to have daily exercises led by qualified teachers to assist their/our students on how to parse or analyze the flood of information they find on the Internet. The first lesson should be to learn how to read a newspaper, a daily map of our community and world.

The state of Utah has recently, and quite properly, thanked the private sector for contributing more than $2.5 million to promote science, technology, education and mathematics (STEM). It is a noble effort to make parents and their children aware of the inherent value of the STEM disciplines.

Think of what Utah educators in our schools, colleges and universities could do with a similar amount to develop teaching programs for teachers at all levels to educate their students about the beauty and the beast of the Internet.

Finally, there has been discussion on Capitol Hill about paying $300 million to assure current technology is in the classroom and available to Utah students. Technology and its use do not equate to education.

The Latin term "educere" means to lead one's self. Great teachers, both by example and gifted classroom teaching, show students how to lead their lives. Most generally it is a person-to-person sustained interaction, where her students, the students' parents and their general community respect the teacher. The students, in turn, understand the value of the knowledge and processes by which knowledge is acquired and therefore accept the "leading by example" of their teacher.

I had the benefit in my public education at Dilworth Elementary School, Hillside Junior High School and Highland High School in Salt Lake City of having phenomenal teachers. I must admit my own outbursts were not always of benefit to me, my fellow classmates or the teachers.

But the teachers persisted and gave me the gift of self-inquiry and the ability to know truth from falsehood, false pyramids from educational highlands.

For their time and gifts as educators I have always been thankful.

Pat Shea is a Salt Lake City attorney and former director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.






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