Wikipedia: “Even educated fleas do it” (Cole Porter)

This is a post by Greet Van Belle, Director of Adjunct Excellence at Mercy College, formerly a professor of European Languages and Literatures at Queens College.

For the 18th C Philosophes it was not enough to want to shed the Light of Reason on all surrounding obscure(d) things. With the Encyclopédie, Diderot and d’Alembert also aspired to enlighten all those hitherto (kept) in the dark. Could Wikipedia be considered a measure of that endeavor’s success?

More recently, the American Psychological Association has urged its members to promote scientific psychology by contributing to Wikipedia. So psychologists are not afraid to do it (use Wikipedia).

Since they (most of your students) probably do it (use Wikipedia), why not challenge them with this question and make them read and discuss Wikipedia’s pages about itself?

Even better, have students try to contribute to the encyclopedia and edit or write an entry themselves! It’s a great way for all to learn how this wiki works, and to discover what it takes to share knowledge and have it submitted to the critical eyes of an “open” community.

Find these and more tips and thoughts about using Wikipedia in Scott Warnock’s excellent A good place to start?: Demystifying Wikipedia for students.  

For the lyrics of Cole Porter’s song, click here.

PS: Let us know in the comments if you or your students have ever made a contribution to Wikipedia!


  1. Jean Kelly
    "The comparison to the Philosophes is ludicrous, and disappointing": could you elaborate?
  2. Arthur Shippee
    I have contributed, as have some students, although not yet as an organized part of a course. I do mention it, and instruct students also to examine the Talk page, to see some of the issues generated. The comparison to the Philosophes is ludicrous, and disappointing. Knowing how to use W. is vital. As I said above, use the Talk page. Also, one should be aware of the controversies, e.g., through http://wikipediocracy.com/. What I find worst about W. is its dullness and lack of insight, which is built into its style. What I find most problematic about W. & all the "research" browsing is a dulled ability to look at a thing itself carefully and analyze it directly -- students close their eyes and minds by finding out the accepted and acceptable (and usually facile and silly) meanings promoted on-line.

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