When my sons tell people we homeschool, invariably someone asks, “Oh, how do you learn math?”
The last time an adult asked this question, my son said, “I can just google it. Look. ‘Siri what’s seven times eight?'”
We’ve been homeschooling and using online search long enough that I’ve had plenty of time to ponder questions like, “Is it cheating to google Henry VIII to find out which wives he killed?” And I can say now that it’s clear to me that teachers should start failing any kid who using their memory to find facts instead of looking them up online.
Maybe you find that idea appalling, just like the adult did when my son answered about math. Just like ’70s parents, when kids took calculators to school. But at some point kids who don’t use the Internet to find as many answers as possible are not just Luddites, but bores.
So instead of wasting years teaching kids to memorize answers, why not move on to teaching kids to ask better questions? Because that’s what searching is, ultimately: learning to phrase a smart question.
A recent South Park episode shows how kids have to be great at telling an ad from news—it’s a learned skill. And Andrew Badr created fun stickers that remind us how much of our world is ranked and sorted for easier search.
Badr’s stickers make light of how we are developing a visual language tailored specifically to hunt for what is popular, what is relevant, what is meaningful. This new language is essential in the Information Age.
Information is coming at us too quickly to memorize it. Instead we need to know how to sort and sift information. It makes perfect sense that my son uses Siri to convert centimeters to inches because the next question will be, “Why do we still have inches?” And then a harder thing to google is what might be a solution?
Honestly, I’m not that great at online research. Among my friends, the best searchers is Melissa because she searches stuff all the time. She asks questions all the time.
The answers are all there right in front of us, but not if we don’t know how to ask the right question. Which is why learning to ask questions is more valuable than learning to give answers. It’s difficult to form a great question.
And asking the right questions is one of the most underrated skills of adult life. So let your kids use the Internet for answering questions. They’ll get great at searching, and all those good questions and answers will open up the world to them in a way that memorizing cannot.