RSS Club: School vs Wikipedia

Created: 2022-10-07 Updated: 2022-11-07
An RSS CLUB Exclusive!!!

Edit: Oh! Hello, there, HN. For context, we're talking about elementary school here. More importantly, I'm not arguing that students should get quick answers from encyclopedias instead of reading books and other primary sources.
I'm arguing that Wikipedia is better than "a Google search," which is a position I will happily defend all day long.

Next Day: The misunderstanding, by the way, was entirely my fault. Please also consider reading my followup: When Hot Takes are Too Hot in which I do a far better job stating what I meant to state here. Thanks!

Having said that, on with the show...

Okay, this is one of those things I've got to get off my chest but I might regret posting to the "public" part of my website.

This is going to be a full-on rant and I suspect I'm going to lapse into some foul language and anger, so feel free to just skip this one. [Edit: Since this has reached a larger audience than I'd intended (no hard feelings, though), I'm going to remove the profanity because I don't think it adds anything useful. The tone doesn't change without it.]

Here we go…​

So, for the last three years, teachers have been telling my kids that they can’t use Wikipedia for any school work. [Edit: And that Wikipedia is bad, in general.]

Apparently, the "logic" stems from that tired old phrase, "anybody can edit Wikipedia, so you can’t trust it."

Okay, fine, telling the kids to be skeptical of any information source is probably a good idea…​ But that’s not what’s happening here.

Instead, they’re bad-mouthing Wikipedia specifically, and then having them do a Google search and using whatever pops up as an authoritative source!

Are you kidding me?

I’m not making this up.

In case you’ve sequestered yourself to the IndieWeb for a while and haven’t been doing the "normie" thing for a while, type in any common subject in Google right now and look at the utter trash that comes up:

  • Merchants selling something related to that thing

  • Keyword farms with stolen blog content

  • Original low-effort articles that appear to be almost machine-generated (maybe they are?)

  • Copies of Wikipedia articles (if you’re lucky)

  • Mirrors of stackexchange sites (if you’re lucky)

Raise your hand if you think this stuff should be used as primary sources for research. Nobody?

Wikipedia may have its internal problems. Maybe it’s too easy to make edits. Maybe it’s too hard to make edits. Maybe they don’t use all of the donation money the way you might want them to. Maybe all of that’s true. Cool, let’s fix that. Keep pressure on Wikipedia. Money can do nasty things to organizations. Don’t let them get all weird like Mozilla where I don’t even know if I support them anymore (though I’m a staunch Firefox supporter and MDN supporter).

But if you ask me to pick the most valuable thing on the Web, my answer for many years has been, without a moment’s hestitation, Wikipedia.

As far as I’m aware, it’s the greatest trove of human knowledge ever assembled outside of the great libraries of the world, and it’s accessible to anyone, anywhere, any time. No advertising. No agenda (or damn near no agenda, I mean, come on - show me a more neutral source for this [edit: wide variety of] information).

So what I tell my kids: okay, if they won’t let you cite Wikipedia as your resource, then at least start there and use the Sources section at the bottom of every page to find high-quality primary sources.

[Edit: Removed a couple sentences of tangential mini-rant that doesn’t add anything to the subject.]

And I donate to Wikipedia every year. Jimmy Wales ( himself can spend that on pizza and beer as far as I’m concerned. As long as they keep the servers humming.