This past week I’ve been reading In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy. Basically it’s the story of Google past, present, and future. It’s a very good book, although Levy could have used an editor to cut some of the redundancies. I chose to read it for three reasons, and I readily admit that I’m behind the times on each of them. First, obviously Google is a driving force behind seismic shifts in how we live. Second, Google has some fascinating ways in which it operates as a business, trying to retain their entrepreneurial spirit as they grow increasingly massive. Third, education has tried to pull some lessons from the success of Google. This final point is my focus here.
Whenever I’ve heard presenters talk about Google, I’ve heard them focus on certain points: how such a powerful search engine changes research, the need for information literacy, Google’s practice of giving employees 20% of their work time for individual projects that may extend the reach and vision of the company. I don’t dispute any of these points, and I’m probably forgetting some. But as I’ve been reading, I’ve been struck by something even more basic—a point that I think is even more vital for education as it prepares kids for a Googly world.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page question everything. They constantly ask “Why?” and “Why not?” This goes for the possibilities of technology to Google’s sparse design to major business decisions to employee dining. They have retained the spirit of children, and Levy refers regularly to their both being Montessori educated. The book has made me wonder—once again—whether most schools overemphasize how to do things and how things are. Educators need to keep asking “Why?” and “Why not?” And we need to listen carefully when our students do the same. I’m curious about the answers.