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« Heading Back To CA | Main | Something We All Really Knew »

Is Our Children Learning?

This is an issue that I think deserves more attention than it's getting:

A recent survey of eight-to 18-year-olds, she says, suggests they are spending 6.5 hours a day using electronic media, and multi-tasking (using different de-vices in parallel) is rocketing. Could this be having an impact on thinking and learning?

She begins by analysing the process of traditional book-reading, which involves following an author through a series of interconnected steps in a logical fashion. We read other narratives and compare them, and so "build up a conceptual framework that enables us to evaluate further journeys... One might argue that this is the basis of education ... It is the building up of a personalised conceptual framework, where we can relate incoming information to what we know already. We can place an isolated fact in a context that gives it significance." Traditional education, she says, enables us to "turn information into knowledge."

Put like that, it is obvious where her worries lie. The flickering up and flashing away again of multimedia images do not allow those connections, and therefore the context, to build up. Instant yuk or wow factors take over. Memory, once built up in a verbal and reading culture, matters less when everything can be summoned at the touch of a button (or, soon, with voice recognition, by merely speaking). In a short attention-span world, fed with pictures, the habit of contemplation and the patient acquisition of knowledge are in retreat.

This is a plausible thesis, though a lot of research needs to be done to validate it. Certainly, judging by Usenet (and even the comments section here), rational argument may be becoming a lost art (though the implication of this article is that it's a problem for the current generation of children, not necessarily, or at least as much, past ones). On the other hand, logical fallacies and inability to argue logically are hardly new, or they wouldn't have been named and described for such a long time (going in fact back to ancient Greece). But that only means that it's a quantitative issue--that it's becoming more of a problem, particularly with more opportunities for discourse.

I don't know whether not this is a serious problem, but it's worth giving some thought to. I also don't have any obvious easy solutions if it is, other than a retail one. Parents have to make sure that their kids learn to read and write, and spend a significant amount of time doing it, rather than just playing with electronic de-vices and icons.

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 24, 2006 07:30 AM
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neil postman has a similar argument in his "amusing ourselves to death", but that was written in the 80s

Posted by ujedujik at April 24, 2006 08:57 AM

Historian author Paul Fussell noted 25 years ago that Americans do not have much of a literary tradition to tie us together. We make much of relevance in our education system, so that rapidly changing things are the current way.

I agree with Fussell: Many of the things we learn as children are not relevant then; they are, in fact, the glue that sticks us all together as we become adults.

So what kind of glue is in a Game Box?

Posted by Bernard W Joseph at April 24, 2006 09:41 AM

In my experience, the major difference between arguments involving highly educated, literary academics, and flamewars in comments sections, is the academics have better spelling and grammar.

Posted by Bob Hawkins at April 24, 2006 06:18 PM

So what kind of glue is in a Game Box?

Well, how about WW2, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War? I find that Gen X and, especially, Gen Y types know a heck of a lot more about U.S. military history than most of my Boomer peers do. Why? War-themed first-person shooters on PS 2 and X-Box is why. The North African, Sicilian and Italian campaigns of WW2 weren't dry pieces of book-learned history to my father - he was there. But I wasn't there and neither were any of my Boomer peers. These new guys with the tats, piercings and backward ball caps didn't fight at Anzio or Bastogne either - at least not the real ones. But a lot of them have been to both of these places, and a lot of others besides, in a way that game-averse Boomers never were and - mostly - never will be. And now, of course, there are thousands making their own real-life desert war stories not so awfully far from where their grandfathers made theirs.

A lot of the parents are ignorant left-wing twits, but the kids are alright.

Posted by Dick Eagleson at April 25, 2006 01:14 AM

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