The Answer Age
By P. Davis © 2005
I have a new term for our age. The Answer Age. As a fourth grade teacher, I am absolutely enamored with my high speed internet access. I can find the answer to virtually everything. I have found information about everything from unicycles to swimming pool pumps; from cars (we bought one online) to finding books like A History of the English-speaking Peoples, by Winston Churchill (I haven’t made a successful Ebay bid on this yet); and from US actual presidential vote counts to an explanation of our starry constellations.
Everything is there. Everything. I so envy the children of my class. Nine year old children with the world at their fingertips must be rich beyond measure. I remember trying to form opinions and figure things out at that wonder filled age, and being frequently frustrated from lack of information. One of the richest gifts I got as a nine year old was a pictorial history of the Civil War, by Bruce Catton. It had more information about the Civil War than a nine year old could imagine, and I became a life-long lover of historical books.
But children now have histories of the Civil War at their fingertips. A simple word typed into Google and they find themselves with a plethora of pictures and anecdotes of the war. And not only that war. Virtually every war of which we might think has many web pages. Often there are interactive sites as children are asked, in some manner, to participate with these sites. Never has learning been so fun!
My own fourth graders pick a research topic and become nine year old experts on their topic. They then build web pages so that they can share their discoveries with other nine year olds. As a teacher, I like teaching this because it teaches children to think, to write, and (what they like the best) to create.
But I do have to wonder. As a pre-modernist growing up in a post-modernist age, I wonder if we haven’t lost sight of the great questions. Like these. Why am I in this world? What end is there for me? Why do I feel there is a definite right and a definite wrong? We do indeed have web pages on these subjects, but I wonder a bit at the irony. Most people today do not even acknowledge the importance of these questions. Here we live in the Answer Age. But having the answers without the questions has put us in a fine muddle.