Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What Teachers's Make - by Taylor Mali

Last month I posted Taylor Mali's video "I'll Fight You for the Library". My husband ordered Mali's book of essays after watching his video "What Teachers Make" - a poem that has made him famous as an advocate for educators. The book includes the "I'll Fight You" poem, as well as mentioning libraries, and librarians in a few other places. I think though, that the essay called "My Best Day as a Teacher" which does not mention libraries, per se, may be the one that best exemplifies information literacy, my own area of expertise. In it Mali describes an incident with a student who said she wanted "to write a persuasive essay that argued in favor of making it illegal for gays to adopt children." Mali "said nothing" except to "remind her of requirements for the paper, the number of different sources" and more importantly, in my opinion "the questions to ask of those sources to make sure they were reliable." He goes on to tell that the student came back to him a few days later to ask if she could "switch sides" because she did not find evidence to support her initial position. Of course there were sources that supported the student's initial position, but once she asked the questions to determine their reliability those sources would have been deemed invalid.

Too often I am asked by students to help them find information that is either non-existent, or unreliable. They have already written their papers, and come to the library only after they are ready to "quote load" it. They then become frustrated with me because there is no scholarly source to support their position. This is a problem on several levels. One is that the student leaves the library with the perception that the librarian  was of no help which means that we are unlikely to see that student again. Another is that students may find they are incapable of changing their minds in the face of new evidence. A problem we see played out everyday on the news. It doesn't matter what scientific evidence we have, climate change deniers will continue to dig in their heels. They will always be able to find some information somewhere that supports their view. I am reminded of a quote I heard at a conference last week: "We live in an age of information, not of knowledge." Information is easy to find. Finding good information takes time, and a not just a bit of critical thinking. It seems it is time to reassess the value of "instant" information, and of an educational system that has made standardized testing its goal.


  1. A few more thoughts on this great educator -- http://environmentalgeography.blogspot.com/2013/05/teaching-what-teachers-make.html

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