A good question. It seems to me that the purpose of an education is not to confirm the student's pre-existing habits and prejudices, but to help them to explore new ways of doing things. In higher education, part of that is going to be to expand their horizons from the stuff they learned in high school, to learn how to use new tools for self-expression (ie. for someone who has never created a web page, that would be a good thing to learn), to learn how to use old tools for self-expression (ie. for someone who has never written a literature review paper, that would be a good thing to learn) and even to learn how the scholarly landscape operates in the discipline they are studying.
Let's see what some other people have had to say on this recently.
First up, sociologist Eszter Hargittai, in an interview at Wired Campus talks about how web savvy students really are as opposed to how savvy everyone assumes they are. Or hopes that they are.
Q. What are the challenges for colleges that hope to better educate students about Web use?
A. How do you fit this into the curriculum? Is it supposed to be an academic department, or through libraries? How can you legitimately stand in front of a classroom when the students have an assumption that they know more about technology than you? At the beginning of my classes, I tell my students, “I know you don’t think I know as much as you because I’m older. I assure you, I know way more than you guys about this.” And they sort of smile, but by the end of the class they realize I’m right.
That's really one of the great challenges of libraries going forward: convincing students that we have something to offer to them, that we know something that they don't, that old fogies can be web savvy.
As far as learning to be a scholar, Wayne Bivens-Tatum points out that the way the humanities are studied really hasn't changed. Our obsession with being "innovative" in the way we deliver collections and services to humanities scholars is, beyond a certain point, kind of delusional:
The humanities are about reading and thinking through language and texts. We can’t assume that they inhabit a “visual culture” and there’s an end on it. There’s almost no visual culture in the humanities outside of art or film criticism. Humanistic scholars read, write, discuss, argue. They don’t make collages or Youtube videos, at least not as a central part of their scholarship. They might record a lecture, but that’s usually much more boring than reading an essay. I don’t know why we sometimes assume that the newest generation is somehow too slow or shallow to be able to adapt themselves to this scholarly tradition. They play video games, and they read books. They make videos, and they write essays. The liberal arts, the studies proper to free and rational human beings, are alive and well. That they aren’t the stuff of reality TV or celebrity websites means nothing, because they have always been the domain of the relative few who seek to question or reflect upon the world around them. Higher education in America gives us the opportunity to expand the benefits of the humanities, not assume that such study is irrelevant to the desires of today’s youth while we desperately flail around trying to seem relevant.
Now, I don't think what Wayne is saying applies to the sciences in quite the same way. After all, the escience computational revolution is radically changing the way that scientific data, information and knowledge themselves are being generated. And the way science is being communicated. But on the other hand, it really does help to know where you've been to be able to figure out where you're going. In that sense, new scientists can truly benefit from diving into all those old books and journals mouldering on the shelves and understanding how science was generated and communicated in the past.
The next bit is from an actually rather distasteful little article whose main point seems to be, "I'm a visual arts scholar, so the art I like is intrinsically better than the art you like." As someone who appreciates both Black Sabbath and Miles Davis, I find it rather condescending. But, if you change the the phrases around the word "taste" for "intellectual habits" or "searching skills" or "confidence with technology" I think there's something valid:
Freshmen arrive on campus with their own taste in everything from music to clothes, food, and electronic equipment. Consciously or not, they also have developed certain tastes in art. Taste being what it is, and young people being what they are, freshmen usually arrive with either no taste or very bad taste — not just in art, but in everything — but in either case, they’re very comfortable with their tastes. They don’t expect or want to change them. The paradox is that it just so happens that their taste, which they consider to be something that’s very particular and individual, is, in most important respects, exactly the same as that of most other college freshmen.
So, what's an education for? It seems to me that it's about changing the way you see things, not confirming or pandering to easy habits or ideas.