The Great Debate
Hummingbirds don’t have feet.
“Hummingbirds don’t have feet,” my younger sister announced to the dinner table. This simple statement sparked a heated family debate that has sprawled across at least a decade. My sister emphatically claimed that hummingbirds did not have feet and my father insisted that hummingbirds did, in fact, have feet. As was standard for unanswerable questions over dinner, my dad walked into the office and returned with one of the maroon bound, gold lettered volumes of our World Book Encyclopedia set.
My dad thumbed to the appropriate page, ready to triumphantly rub those feet in my sister’s face. The image for this particular entry turned out to be an illustration (rather than a photo) and did not include the bird’s feet. Dad was wrong and the World Book proved it. In our minds the World Book was the Final Authority; in the Kids versus Dad debate we’d finally won a round. Nowadays we realize the truth of our Dad’s statement but, to this day, a fantastic way to get under my Dad’s skin is to state that hummingbirds do not have feet, go retrieve the encyclopedia (yes, they still have it) and proudly show him the picture.
I fondly remember the hours we’d spend pouring over those books. When we first ordered the set, one book would arrive each month and we’d eagerly open the box, filled with glee to see what new information was waiting for our hungry minds. Who can forget the volume with the human anatomy and the clear plastic pages that would overlay the skeletal and muscular systems? I think my sister and I have both brought that particular book into school for show and tell. Almost every night questions would pop up that required Dad to reference our encyclopedias; looking up the information – as a family – to settle a dispute was half the fun.
How we find and process information has changed dramatically since those early encyclopedia days. A quick statement into my Google voice search app can yield hundreds, if not thousands, of hummingbird images in less time than it would take me to go fetch the book from another room. On one hand, our deep questions are no longer limited to dinner time. Since questions can be resolved with the quick tap of a screen we are easily able to track down answers and learn something new, if not always useful. On the other hand, we no longer have the pleasure of the extended debate – prolonged to the point where someone throws up their hands in frustration and stands up to ask the World Book what the truth of the matter really is.
But with the ease of finding information, I wonder if we’re still truly storing the newly found facts in our brains? Now that we can find the answer at a moment’s notice, are we still taking the time to file that gem of a fact in our long term memory? It seems that students today have incredible advantages because information is so easily accessible, but I wonder if that very same ease of accessibility is detrimental to the actual act of learning? There was something to the process of going to a library, collecting a variety of books, reading through the topics and writing down notes that helped reinforce the new information streaming into my brain. Are we getting lazier about memorization?
As a parent, I’m excited about all the new methods of teaching and learning. I look forward to the days when all my son’s school books are consolidated into one reader or tablet. Cloud storage means that his school work is always there for him to access. With a split custody situation, we’ve overcome the challenge of the homework assignment having been left at the wrong house. The smart boards the teachers use in the classroom makes for a more interactive presentation and engages my children in actively learning. But I also feel like my sons are missing out on the joys of digging through library stacks to pinpoint one small fact. Perhaps it’s just my nostalgia kicking in?
Most recently my sister has been waging a campaign for chickens. Specifically she wants me to have chickens so that she can come visit them. Zoning in my area permits chickens as pets and she’s been insistently and persistently making her case. Her tactics? Google image searches for chickens. Here’s the one that almost has me ready to build a coop: