From Now On

The Educational Technology Journal

Vol 14|No 4|April|2005
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Smushing is Simply
Low Grade Synthesis

by Jamie McKenzie
About the author.

Join the Coalition Against Smushing by clicking here.

What happens when your teacher assigns topical research on China?

"Go find out about China!"

You Google China and discover with glee that there are some 220 or more million Web pages devoted to your topic.

For three weeks you gather, save and collect, creating a huge pile of information about China.

As your pile growns into a mountain, your early reactions of glee turn into bliss.

Everyone knows that a clear sign of intelligence and understanding is a huge pile of "stuff."

The Challenge of Synthesis

The trouble with mountains of information is the challenge of synthesizing all those pages into something that looks like a school report.

After three weeks of gathering (without much reading, sorting or sifting), you are suddenly confronted with the monstrous task of compacting all that information into a dozen pages.

If this were kitchen garbage, you could stuff the whole lot into the compactor and turn a switch, but information requires a different process and a different contraption.

Earth movers required.

Earth movers required.

Earth movers required.

Earth movers required.

When Smush comes to Shove

It is time to Smush the information into term paper size. Technically, the compression of hundreds of pages of information into a mere dozen pages is a form of synthesis, but compression without comprehension, purpose or standards is a low grade form of synthesis not at all like distilling or refining. One can shorten without improving understanding or communication. One can condense without reaching import or insight. Crushing and cramming may work with grapes, but the making of wine requires quite a few more steps.

Topical Research - The Culprit

Students cannot be blamed for such smushing. It is a time-honored school tradition spawned by teachers who assign topical research.

The practice should be banned as a mind numbing and worthless ritual that requires almost no thought or originality.

All teachers should join the Coalition Against Smushing by taking a pledge against assigning topical research and promising to engage students in research that requires fresh thought.

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Credits: The photographs were shot by Jamie McKenzie .

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