I’m not going to tell stories of walking a mile uphill through the snow to get to school when I was young. The fact is that I lived in a flat city with a rather temperate climate and the distance to my school was only a matter of blocks. My journey was a short and rather pleasant affair. What was the most difficult about learning fifty or sixty years ago involved doing research for papers or my debate class. The only way to get information beyond the outdated set of encyclopedias that my father had purchased before he died was making a trip to the library.
Of course the old way of doing such things was to be armed with lots of paper and index cards to jot down information by hand, starting with notes about where to find the books and periodicals that I needed. I’d begin with the card catalog and then pray that the items that I wanted would actually be in the library. About seventy five percent of the time some other fortunate soul would have already checked out what I had hope to find. Even worse was when I eagerly turned the pages of a magazine only to discover that someone had vandalized it by tearing out the very sections that I most desired to read. Research was a frustrating and time consuming project that often took hours on a sunny Saturday when I would have preferred to be anywhere but inside a library.
Unfortunately for me this mode of getting the data for my papers continued through both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in college. I never formally enjoyed the luxury of using the Internet to learn or gather information while I was still a student but I watched it become ever more sophisticated and capable of housing a vast array of ideas and processes unlike anything the world had ever before seen. Now it seems as though I can use this marvelous technological advance to self teach myself about virtually anything and hardly a day goes by that I do not take full advantage of it, all in the comfort of my home without ever having to get out of my pajamas or put on my shoes.
I suspect that people in my age group marvel a bit more over the Internet than young folks who have grown up taking it for granted. I often find myself considering how much more I might have accomplished in life if I had not been bogged down by the time consuming process of searching for information when I was still a student. Now I am able to find multiple sources and points of view on virtually any topic as long as the wifi is operating wherever I happen to be.
Of late I’m a YouTube geek when in comes to Pre-AP Pre-Calculus. In an effort to better prepare students for AP Calculus the methods for teaching and learning the fundamentals of Pre-Calculus have changed. When I was still in high school such a course didn’t even exist and even when I attended college the depth and breadth of what I learned was not equivalent to today’s course. Since I never taught mathematics beyond Algebra II, and that was over twelve years ago, I have had to update my knowledge so that I might better prepare my grandsons for their tests. I’ve turned to the Internet for my own tutoring sessions and the experience has been rather remarkable. There are a number of dedicated souls who film themselves explaining the various concepts and they have illuminated me time and again when I felt a bit confused about a particular way of doing things. I do believe that it might be totally possible to learn the full scope of high school mathematics simply by going online each day and then practicing the processes just a bit.
I never dreamed that there would be so much knowledge easily available for anyone desiring to partake of it. I continually find answers to my own questions about the world around me. I’ve learned to search for multiple sources and to check the credentials of the persons providing the narratives that I read. It doesn’t take long to realize that some of the information is false or a bit inadequate so I never rely on a single site but in general the entire world of knowledge is there for the taking at anytime of the day or night and I can’t think of anything more wonderful.
Through the lens of the Internet I’ve seen the world, found my ancestors, listened to lectures, enjoyed music and learned how to cook delicious meals. The possibilities are seemingly limitless and so I marvel at how lucky we are in this day and time. Even someone who is homebound still has access to knowledge. We need go no farther than the room where our computer or laptop is housed to find works of art and great thinkers. It’s breathtaking to think how lucky we are.
Even as I write this blog there is much concern over what may happen if the coronavirus spreads through our country causing schools to close and isolation to become the temporary norm. People wonder how they will spend their time, what they will do with their children. I suggest that they go to the Internet for ideas. There is a whole cornucopia of ideas just waiting to be discovered. Passing time these days is just a moment away. Learn how things work. Read great literature. Study the history of a time and place. The possibilities are limitless. There is so much to learn and it’s become so easy to find. The world is at our fingertips.