I grew up a child of the library.  I borrowed books.  I read books.  I researched college research papers.  I did it all in my local public library and my campus libraries.  The library was the safe haven — the Smart Place — it was a niche where I fit in because I created my own intellectual indentations that nobody else could question unless I decided to share what I was thinking.

Children today don’t have buildings called libraries that mean the same thing to them that it means to people of my generation.  Kids today have virtual hangout places like the internets, and if they want to find something to read to reflect upon or research, they just fire up The Google and all their boring inquiries are returned unimagined.

When I was in college and had to write a research paper, it was a heavy duty.  You had to lug yourself to the library.  Search the card catalogue.  Descend into the dusty stacks and find your books using the Dewey Decimal System.  Then you had to evaluate the print on paper and decide if 20 pounds of books were worth actually checking out and taking home with you or not.

Today’s modern research methods really reckons none of that anymore.  All students have to do is sit at home, or in a train, or on a toilet, and use their smartphones to ping Google.  Then they merely copy and paste their “research” into a new document and put their name on it and hand it in — there’s no tempering of the mind and zero effort into evaluating sources… That’s What The Google Is For!

It all makes me sad and a little scared.  When students aren’t required to think and evaluate the logic of authoritative sources, we create a generational mass that prefers to be told what to do and to be acted upon rather than rebelling and taking the lead down their own paths of the human mind.  We create automatons and not real, live, thinkers.  While those sorts of people are great for business and big government, they’re terrible for the Republic.

We must demand a return to routine skepticism and argumentative reasoning in the classroom and especially in the teaching of modern research methods.  Sure, some students copied and pasted content from books in my day, but they actually had to re-type what was in a book, and in that translative process from dried ink on pulp to wet ink on paper, one can change ideas and modify tone and even re-write a passage and summarize an argument — if only because it saves time and space in the “copying” process.

Today, there’s no effort — or need, really — for a student to think about the core material being quoted because that takes too much time.  It’s easier to just copy and paste paragraphs of content in a few seconds than to pause and consider a different reality for a moment or two or a lifetime.

I’m uncertain how to get modern students to return to a rougher intellectual experience of actually hewing the analytical research mind, and I understand we cannot ban Google from the college experience, but there must be a better way to force the fingers to make the mind actually think and ponder what is being argued before being auto-saved and click-submitted for a sliding-scale grade.

11 Comments

    1. I agree that a school death penalty is one way to solve it — the problem is that students have no idea what plagiarism means or how it happens or why it is important not to do that — and even providing specialized classes to help them understand doesn’t seem to make any difference. It’s as if they don’t understand attribution. We live in The Age of Intellectual Stealing and it’s a really difficult problem to solve because it’s feeling as if it’s too late.

  1. I have pondered this subject many times in the course of raising my elementary school children. I had a desktop with Windows95 (I was uptown, Baby!!:) ) and had all the ‘research’ material available to use at home, as much as at the library. I qualify that by saying they wouldn’t have touched a book if they’re lives depended on it at home or at the library. I mused to myself how much easier research and homework had become in the mere 20 yrs between my schooling and theirs. And as you mention, to our students detriment, the actual process of thinking has been eliminated from one’s curriculum.
    Society shows the results of lack cognitive thinking. The age group that my boys grew with is largely less a group of thinkers than they are a group that says “I want it MY way!”

  2. If it is so in America that kids are unaware of what plagarism is, then there’s a flaw in the education system. In Australia in year 4 we were informed about it, and the consequences of plagarism. We are taught that using one source is not acceptable and we should cross reference our information. And we’ve never just “cut and pasted” information, we’ve read and understood it. Google and the internet are sources which enable people who live in out back areas, who used to have to travel miles to the nearest library, to access information.

    1. Another three facts to note are
      1. Our education REQUIRED us to use books as sources, so don’t tell me they’ve been eliminated, and
      2. Thinking has not been eliminated as Lillian proposes as homework is not all about putting a group of facts together, it’s about think what is important in a piece of work, and deciding what is important to have in it, and finnally
      3. What is the huge difference? Searching manually for books in a library was something that just wasted time. Now with Goofle, it makes it easier and more time efficient, and nothing is lost. Content is the same, and there is more of it. It means less time searching and more time actually creating something worthwhile.