Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Commencement is Coming!

The Mt. Lebanon High School commencement begins Thursday evening, June 11, at 6:30 pm. In the high school stadium, assuming that the weather is clear.

The Lebo Class of 2009 will hear some commencement speaking, but nothing they hear will be wiser or righter than the commencement address delivered last week at Shady Side Academy by Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard law professor who grew up in Churchill and, of course, attended Shady Side. A taste:
My view is that Wikipedia and projects like it belong at the heart of a high school and college education. Instead of turning to a handful of approved sources and paraphrasing them to write a ten-page U.S. History paper that will be viewed and graded only by the teacher – who looks at a stack of papers and anticipates the same bad movie, twenty times – you can be asked to demonstrate a sustained and original contribution to a Wikipedia article on an important topic, having to contend with conflicting sources and others’ arguments, learning to discern and then defend truth amidst chaos – and to refine your own view in light of what you discover. There are few things as devastatingly disarming to others as admitting when you’re wrong.

For the world you are entering – really the one you’ve been in all along – is one swimming in received wisdom, accepted uncritically. Too easily we farm out the hard work of knowing whether our society is on a sustainable path to policymakers, experts, or the media. It’s like: Katie Couric will tell us if there’s anything genuinely
worth worrying about. But these channels of authority are overwhelmed, dysfunctional, and in some cases outright corrupt.

What will reinforce them, or even take their place, is something you can help build, with tools that even ten years ago were unknown. The key is to move from the reactive, desultory world of Charlie Brown to one in which you appreciate that you are generally at least as empowered as the next person, and to realize the ethical dimension that accompanies the day-by-day as well as the landmark events in life. As my best friend at Shady Side put it, reflecting on what he knows now that he and I had missed in high school, one of the best ways to evaluate your success is the effect you have on a room of people – family or strangers – when you enter. Does it become brighter or darker? That’s something you can choose, even though too often it’s just a script followed without much thought. Enterprises like Wikipedia urge us to ask the same question in our virtual lives, knowing how often they touch real ones.
A lot of Zittrain reads like a little of my own hypothetical commencement address, from a couple of years ago. Or the reverse.
Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home