High school and college students may be “digital natives,” but they’re wretched at searching. In a recent experiment at Northwestern, when 102 undergraduates were asked to do some research online, none went to the trouble of checking the authors’ credentials. In 1955, we wondered why Johnny can’t read. Today the question is, why can’t Johnny search?
Who’s to blame? Not the students. If they’re naive at Googling, it’s because the ability to judge information is almost never taught in school. Under 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act, elementary and high schools focus on prepping their pupils for reading and math exams. And by the time kids get to college, professors assume they already have this skill. The buck stops nowhere. This situation is surpassingly ironic, because not only is intelligent search a key to everyday problem-solving, it also offers a golden opportunity to train kids in critical thinking.