What does Wikipedia have in common with vending machines, tank tops, and condoms? It has become a controversial topic for high schools, and like some of the above mentioned elements, has even gone so far to be banned.
I was at a family gathering recently and entered into a discussion with my cousin, a freshman in high school. He is currently enrolled in some classes with projects and papers, so we spoke about the process his teachers encourage him to research and source.
Apparently at his high school, students are only allowed to use sources found in a few select online databases approved by the school. They are not allowed to find information by searching the internet, and above all, NO Wikipedia.
I absolutely agree that Wikipedia should not be listed in your works cited, but it is a far more useful tool than most teachers these days realize.
For one, Wikipedia gives you an overall knowledge of a particular subject. With the wealth of information out there, it is often hard to find a general explanation of certain topics. That can be crucial in offering a starting off point for a research paper, especially for young minds like high school students.
Secondly, the Wikipedia community is usually very good at citing their references. Though the text in Wikipedia may not be quotable, the sources at the end of each article can often be used as trustworthy pieces of reference.
I also think it is important to be teaching kids, especially at a young ago, how to appropriately use social media tools, such as Wikipedia. The solution is not to ban Wikipedia. It is to encourage them to use it in a responsible way.
I have seen college kids cite Wikipedia in their bibliography for research papers. For a long time, I don’t think many people understood how incorrect that was. Without the proper teachings early on, these high school kids may fall into the same trap. Don’t tell them to not use Wikipedia. Instead, explain to them why not to use it in those situations, and tell them when it is appropriate.
Kids these days are savvy enough to know Wikipedia exists, and at some point in their student career, they will turn to it. They need to be taught that it is a user-created encyclopedia, and to judge the credibility of everything they read. Not everything will be correct, but at the same time, this does not mean everything will necessarily be wrong (with a high percentage comparable to reputable encyclopedias.)
In this age of new media, people should be critical of everything they read, and Wikipedia is a perfect teaching tool for this.
Join me in encouraging students and teachers to Practice Safe Wikipedia Research!