January 10, 2005

The cognitive blogroll

After setting up my Bloglines blogroll last week, I had this startling thought about RSS aggregators like Bloglines, niche (and partisan) media outlets like Fox News, and selective "hearing" that students occasionally engage in when reading: part of the freedom to pick and choose what is convincing—and select one's sources for reading (or believing)—is the freedom to be willfully narrow-minded.

I'm not an educational psychologist, so I don't know if the literature on constructivism has discussed this potential. (Anyone know? Please e-mail me!) One hundred years ago, yellow journalism and propaganda was a broadcast entity. Today, people have much greater freedom to have minimal exposure to diverse perspectives, blow them off, and shut them out.

There are many who talk about the sheep mentality of those with different partisan leanings, from Rush Limbaugh claiming that African Americans are the colonial victims of Democrats to Mary Daly's discussing anti-feminist activists as "fembots" to what neighbors say about each other after this last vicious campaign. What these explanations miss is the fact that culpability requires choice (unless you're a strict predestinationist in the Calvinist vein). And intellectual freedom includes the absolute right to be ill-informed and the right to filter information through one's preexisting knowledge and prejudices. (I think educational psychologists use the neutral terms "activating prior knowledge" and "using schema".)

And I suspect that there is no easy way to distinguish the need to be selective in reading/learning from prejudice.

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Posted in Teaching on January 10, 2005 7:04 PM |