Sometimes You Just Need to Know Stuff
I recently saw a Facebook posting from an organization I respect that recognized Chief Sealth as the namesake of Seattle. I am very much in support of this, but there was a problem. It was illustrated with this photograph on the left.
This is not Chief Sealth. I know that for several reasons:
I emailed the organization that posted the original image, and they quickly corrected it and apologized for misrepresenting such an important figure. It’s easy to understand how they made the mistake, however. If you do an image search for Chief Seattle/Sealth, you’ll see this image will feature prominently in your results. Misinformation spreads easily on the Internet.
This is why I quibble with those who say things “Kids shouldn’t have to learn anything they can Google.” I was able to recognize this image was wrong because I had learned stuff, and I could use the information I already knew to interpret and evaluate the original posting. In order to do an effective search and sort the results, you have to have pre-existing knowledge.
Memorization is still part of learning.
This was further reinforced by my attempts to figure out just who the man in the striking image actually is. I downloaded the image and uploaded it into the Google “Search by Image” function. There were many, many hits, and those that weren’t mistakenly labeled Chief Sealth instead identified him as Chief Black Kettle of the Cheyenne tribe. I looked at several of the sites and came away confident that this was correct.
The next day I was discussing this with a colleague and was ready to tell him who the image was, but I had a moment of doubt. So I went to the Wikipedia page for Black Kettle, and while there were a few photographs of him, the image I had used for the search was not among them. When I checked his biographical information, I found he been killed in 1868. The image was from the wrong era and couldn’t be him.
Did I find who the image actually represents? Yes, but I’m not going to tell you who it is. I’m going to challenge you to do your own “Search by Image,” so you can see how many incorrectly labeled versions of this image you have to wade through. (It’s worth the effort, for the man in the photograph is a fascinating figure who lead an amazing life.)
My main point here is that when I see lists of the skills that kids need in order to navigate information on the web, I never see anyone listing that students need to have a body of content that they have learned. The volume of misinformation on the Internet is growing minute by minute, much of it shared with malicious intent. (Russia alone generates thousands of media postings per month with specific intent to drown out factual information.) People who wade into this increasingly polluted body of information need to be armed with basic knowledge of science, history, and other core content in order to to ask intelligent questions and develop the necessary BS filters to interpret what they see and get to the actual truth.