Megan Garber makes some very good insights here, beyond the usual “internet good / internet bad” debate. Central to her argument is this idea:
While formal learning has been, in the pre-digital world, a matter of rote obligation in the service of intellectual catholicism — and news consumption has been a matter of the bundle rather than the atom — the web-powered world is creating a knowledge economy that spins on the axis of interest. Individual interest. The web inculcates a follow your bliss approach to learning that seeps, slowly, into the broader realm of information; under its influence, our notion of knowledge is slowly shedding its normative layers.
The tone in the article implies that this ability to find and follow one’s idiosyncratic interests is revolutionary and freeing. The internet, Garber argues, releases us from the chains of “rote obligation in the service of intellectual catholicism”. And I agree, there is something hugely valuable and exciting, especially for young students, about being able to learn deeply and specifically about things that one might not be exposed to in a traditional high school curriculum. And of course, many traditional curricula are enormously lacking in their ability to inspire interest and excitement on the part of students.
However, the article seems to be in favor of a sort of libertarian approach to education, where “following your bliss” is all that is needed. The question here is: Is there value in learning about things that you don’t like or don’t care about? I don’t feel any particular passion about the economics of oil trading or algebra, but I appreciate that it makes me a more aware and more functional member of society to have some basic understanding of these areas.