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June 09, 2003
How to educate with the Internet

Alice Bachini linked (go to her main site and scroll down to "anti-semitism" if that first link doesn't work) to this over the weekend. It's a denunciation, as Alice's heading indicates, of the new anti-semitism, of the sort that Islamists and the new left are now accused of.

My point is nothing to do with the fact that I personally agree strongly with the message being presented. (I might as well be honest about that, and acknowledge that it may have influenced what follows.) My point is that this seems to me to be very well presented argument, and a model of how to use the internet to put across ideas. Aesthetically it is very satisfactory. And it is well-written.

I loathe the use of the word "education" to describe propaganda, and this is propaganda. The central dishonesty in the education/propaganda blurring being that ideas are being put across which the protagonist of them knows to be controversial, buit he conceals the fact that they are controversial and instead trying to say that they are as universally agreed about as the facts, say, of which city is the capital of which country, and of what 62 + 35 equals. Nevertheless, this particularly item of propaganda, it seems to me, has a lot to say to educators about how to communicate with the latest technology.

I'd love to be told of other equally excellent (or better) examples of how to put ideas across on the Internet.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:52 PM
Category: The Internet

Well, I don't think of myself as anti-semitic, but I am opposed to the idea of a Jewish state. I am also opposed to the idea of a Muslim state or a white state, or any state (government) which is defined by a religious or ethnic identity. Any state with such a basis is guaranteed to eventually yeild some kind of problem. States should be non-ethnic, secular entities. Israel is neither, though it's the closest thing to that ideal in the middle east, with the possible exception of Turkey.

On the other hand, I think that calling opponents of Israel's policies "anti-semitic" is a cheap shot. I know a lot of opponents to these policies, and I wouldn't call any of them "anti-semitic." Questioning your political opponent's motives is generally a good way to force him to disagree with you no matter what. Arguing a position on its merits has the advantage of possibly converting people who disagree with you.

The main problem is a disagreement over what "anti-semitic" means. It's an intentional concept; most policies concerning the middle east are neutral with respect to it. A policy put forward with the intent of harming Jews is anti-semitic (for example a fatwa calling for murder of all Jews). Even a highly misguided policy put forward with the intention of bringing peace is likely not anti-semitic (for example, a plan calling for one state with all power in the hands of the Palestinian Arabs.)

Comment by: Lucas Wiman on June 10, 2003 01:51 AM

I'm sure that presentation was a parody. The 'green areas' map showed all of Ghana and nearly all of Nigeria as Muslim - and most of India!

Brian - why don't you admit it - you hate Muslims, and this is your Protocols of the Elders of Mecca.

Comment by: Marcus on June 10, 2003 11:38 AM

The purpose of this posting has been misunderstood by the two commenters so far.

I linked to this presentation not to spread my opinions about Islam etc., but to provoke thought about the techniques of communicating, propagandising and educating by using the Internet. Maybe it is expecting too much to say anything about Islam, Israel etc. without provoking a row about Islam, Israel etc. Maybe that was a mistake on my part. But this presentation does genuinely seem to me to be a very skilled piece of idea presentation, regardless of what you think of these ideas.

The comments I still hope for are of other Internet places where other ideas, from very controversial (like this presentation), to not controversial (like a site doing maths education for example - such as the rocket science site I linked to below this posting), are being presented with similar aesthetic effectiveness and clarity. Although for me the rocket science site is a lot less clear, and a lot less easy and enticing to navigate through.

I stated my bias merely to state my bias. I believe that this is one of the things that, e.g., history or politics teachers should do. I did not state my bias in order then to engage in debate about whether my bias is sensible or silly or immoral, and I will not engage in such debate here.

However, news of a well presented website, well structured, lucidly argued, clearly presented Internet operation, perhaps making use of musical or animation techniques, explaining the Islamist case against Israel (and related matters), would be absolutely on message, provided the point is the manner of its presentation, and its effectivenss as a use of the Internet to spread ideas - any ideas.

A general point though. I do think that many teachers have a lot to learn about putting their message across from more ideologically committed preachers and propagandisers. One reason why Christianity, to take just one religious example, is so heavily represented in education is because people want their kids taught about right and wrong, etc. But another reason why Christians educate so effectively is that they give so much attention to the spreading of their Christian message, and are thus way better than others at spreading other messages, such as 62 + 35 = 97.

And a related point is that many of the best teachers are themselves committed to a cause, religious or political or some such. Being biased in one's own opinions is not the same as teaching in a biased way, that is to say, in a way that conceals bias and presents bias as objective, uncontroversial fact. But one's own bias, honestly labelled as such, can provoke thought in one's pupils, in the way that "objectivity" can utterly fail to do. Many are the pupils who look back fondly on teachers with utterly different opinions from theirs, with whom they sparred constantly, and thus sharpened their brains. And such teachers often remember such pupils fondly also, because at least they were thinking, instead of just copying it all down and then just thoughtlessly regurgitating it back again come exam time.

But please be clear that this particular lesson (posting, class discussion) is not about the content of that presentation, it is about presentation itself.

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on June 10, 2003 01:21 PM

Well, the presentation itself was very slow, for what that's worth. I can read and take in information a lot faster than the presentation gives it to me. Also, I'm of the school that graphics should not be used unless they serve some purpose. At no point in the presentation did the graphics seem to serve any purpose at all, with the exception of the map. Though even it contained inaccurate data about the reach of Islam, as another commenter pointed out. Then again, I'm not a child, and I'm not a fan of these sorts of presentations generally (animations, powerpoint presentations, etc.) Perhaps children would find the presentation style more to their liking.

I agree with you about bias. I find it annoying to have to sort out what's a bias in a publication (say in the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal), which is why I subscribe to publications which make their biases fairly explicit upfront (like the Economist and Mother Jones). Teaching is the same way. I think that it's wrong for teachers to proselytize (unless the parents request that), but a teacher can still have strong religious persuasions, and even discuss them in class. As you say, one must always separate the controversial from the uncontroversial, labeling each. To fail to do this is to fail to educate well.

Comment by: Lucas Wiman on June 10, 2003 04:09 PM

i just played this link, http://www.ericblumrich.com/iraqwar.html, which i would say is much better than the bachini link, though still lacking. while not as powerpoint as bachini's with a much nicer aesthetic (one study i am aware of makes the claim that web-site aesthetic first impressions determine credibility for about half of all viewers - nothing too shocking) this link lacks punch in some content choice of quotes and images. i wonder if the saturation of the event makes me (us) more difficult to persuade/educate.

Comment by: jonk on June 12, 2003 03:35 PM

1)This website teaches you about fundamental particles. It seems to me to flow nicely from idea to idea.

If the link doesn't show up as a link, go to http://particleadventure.org/particleadventure/index.html

2)When previewing a post, how the fneeb do you get back to edit mode if the preview shows the wrong thing?

Comment by: Natalie Solent on June 14, 2003 04:20 PM
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