Thursday, February 21, 2013

First DRAFT - The Dumbest Generation - I disagree

I have published this as a first draft.  I chose intentionally to do this.  I have shared more of my raw feelings and specifics here.  The next post will be more of a polished look and short read.

After hearing Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) speak at a Surrey Engaging the Digital Learner dinner series (#sd36learn), I was encouraged to read the Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein.  I was fore warned to "read it if I dare."

I eagerly purchased the book (as I like to read books in physical form still) (and to be able to share with others - so not from the library).

I started reading it, read the first chapter and a half - then put it down discontented.  It was hard reading page after page explaining how dumb young people are.  The subtitle is "How the Digital Age Stupifies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future."

When I first started writing this post, I decided to be concise, but that was not possible with how fired up I was by the assumptions.  I chose to write a synopsis above and leave the rest below as my first draft and detailing my reading journey.

My journey  (Assumptions and themes from the book - with my commentary
- Students are stressed and anxious because they are focused on success.
We are trying to change learning to be engaging and relevant but measure the time spent reading a book and doing homework with college professors expecting 25 hours per week

Students live their lives "passing stories, pictures, tunes and texts back and forth living off the thrill of peer attention.  Meanwhile their intellects refuse the cultural and civic inheritance that has made us what we are upto now."

The premise is immediately believing that the activities of today's youth is refusing the past. 

Chapter 1
Knowledge Deficits

"They are encased in more immediate realities that shut out conditions beyond - friends, work, clothes, cars, pop music, sitcoms, Facebook."

I can accept that youth today generally has different priorities than older members of society.  A reality check - what has the older part of society done to engage youth in the important things of "facts of government, foreign and domestic affairs, the historical past, and the fine arts.?"

I find it first ridiculous that these are the important things that youth are not engaged in.  When a US election takes 2 years of bad mouthing the other side, and politicians are doing what is best for themselves instead of the greater good, or the citizens they represent - no wonder the facts of government doesn't rate.  When we have thousands of years of historical past, what part do you expect a teenager to learn in a couple of years.  When there are many forms of art, why do you expect only the ones that you like are the ones you expect youth to embrace.

In my experience, students are engaged in living.  They are growing up with more opportunities to be socially responsible than ever before. 

Educationally priorities have changed because they needed to change.  It is more important to understand in Grade 7 how Egypt impacted the world today, than to be able to list the names of a bunch of dead people who lived in Egypt.

The book provides extensive research proving just how dumb students are:
NAEP History Exam - 57% scored below basic knowledge and skills
National Constitutional Centre Survey- only 41% could name 3 branches of government
10% could identify the speaker of the house of representatives
National Election study - 25% could identify who the vice president was

countered with
64% knew the latest American Idol

It may be true that youth can't answer questions to things that aren't relevant to them.  That begs the question for us non-youth
1.  What is relevant to youth
2.  What do I think is so important and how can I make it relevant to youth

Chapter 2
New Bibliophobes
"Adults read significantly lower rates than previous decades."

I am sure you guessed that there were some measures of reading:
- Not reading the Great Gatsby about the 1920s
- rarely read newspapers or books
- Kids only read Harry Potter (The fastest selling book ever) because other kids are reading it 

I agree there are less books being read; however, reading is deep within every aspect of our lives.  One aspect is considering other places that text is alive to youth.  There are text in graphic novels, in online games, in HTML programming, in blogging, in twitter, in facebook, in pintrest etc.  What is not caught by these statistics showing dumbness is the growing abilities to read other forms of text such as music, videos, mashups, pictures, created images and more.

(I stopped reading at this point because I was too frustrated.  I dreaded reading.  )

About two weeks later I picked it up and skimmed the first couple pages of the remaining chapters.

Chapter 3
Screen Time
Blogs have altered campaigns and elections - but in 2004 less than half of the 4.1 million blogs were kept by 13 to 19 year olds.

This just shows how far the book misses the point.  Over 2 million blogs are written by 13 to 19 year olds.  These young students are not only writers but readers.  Go back to the 'good old days' where everyone read books and ask how many 13 to 19 years wrote blogs, wrote for a world audience, read what other 13 to 19 year olds are writing - NOTHING.

The measure of dumb is based on a premise that a book written by an older person about something that interests an older person should be intrinsically valued by the next generation. 

Screen time is considered a problem.  They are watching screens and not reading.  (I concede there are lots of wasted hours watching screens; however, there are great opportunities as well.)  I believe there are some social aspects that go beyond reading that mess the data interpretation.  Poverty rates are on the rise.  More two parent families need both parents working to make ends meet.  More families are becoming single parent families.  The rich are getting richer, and the middle class and poor are getting poorer.  If reading of the previous generations was so wonderful, why has western society progressed to have the greatest spread between the rich and poor EVER.  (While I don't agree with it, TV is a cheap or free babysitter for many families - not out of a desire, but need)

Chapter 4
Online Learning and Non-Learning

ETS (Educational Testing Service) developer of the SAT
- even though students can use technology, they don't seek, find or manage information well.
- students don't cite resources
- don't compose organized responses

52% of students correctly judged the objectivity of certain websites.

The key missing here - how many people correctly judge the objectivity of a printed book.  I know that growing up - every printed book was 100% correct.  We never questioned the encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Brittanica had similar errors than Wikipedia but nobody questioned it.

Chapter 5
The Betrayal of the Mentors

A case study is provided where Fine Arts was valued (funded) and students were supported, mentored, enabled.  The results are impressive for many at risk youth.  There are certainly ways of improving life success for our young people.  They do require a conscious decision to value (funding is part of that value) kids and the impact of their education.

We can do things differently and better.  As a teacher, I take to heart providing the best opportunity for growing children to be the best they can in every aspect of their life.  I live in a reality where the government claims to value education but passes a status quo budget - even though there are 134 million in additional costs.  That means yet more cuts to kids while they spin doctor it, to say highest funding ever.

Chapter 6
No More Culture Warriors

I found this interesting and read more of this chapter.  In short it is an example of Rip Van Winkle - displaced 20 years in time.  Major events change the world in 20 years.  Many of the visionary technology ideas of Star Trek are now our daily realities. I don't think our cultural visionary ideas have come as far. 

We still deal with bullying in the workplace, community and schools.
We still deal with poverty
We still deal with crime

I am not a pessimist so I see major cultural shifts we have made as well
We are accepting of differences
We are open to new ideas
We are developing social justice lenses
We are developing social responsibility lenses
We are changing schooling to be about learners and not delivering content

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