Monday, June 02, 2008

There was an article in Newsweek last week which criticized Mark Bauerlein's new book, called The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future. Bauerlein's book argues that test scores are dropping, adult illiteracy is rising, and that, on the whole, students today are much less knowledgeable about geography, history, and basic writing and composition skills than almost any generation in the last couple of hundred years. The Newsweek article by Sharon Begley and Jeneen Interlandi, by contrast, goes on to counterargue that IQ scores have not diminished, and that kids today are more adept than ever at problem solving and accomplishing feats of logic. This article argues (in essence) that kids today have simply made the choice to store fewer facts in their brains because they are the products of an age in which facts are immediately accessible via the internet and any number of computers or handheld devices, and that kids today are more focused on analyzing data than on simply storing it.
Here's my question, I guess. If kids today don't have a working knowledge of history, geography, literature, and so forth, how are they even going to know when it's important to look up facts in the first place? If a kid has no working knowledge of the Vietnam War, how is he going to recognize the possibility that his leaders are repeating the historical mistakesof Vietnam in Iraq? Wikipedia isn't going to draw this to his attention to this and ask him to make the comparison. If a kid's government is getting ready to put up a fence with armed guards along the Mexican border, how is this kid going to know about whether it's appropriate to compare such a program to The Berlin Wall or The Great Wall of China (unless that kid has a working knowledge of these things)? Will some kid recognize the debatable similarities between the failed "separate but equal" argument of the civil rights movement of the 1960's and the treatment of modern day homosexuals with the right to civil unions while precluding gay marriage?
I guess I can see some of the points that Begley and Interlandi are trying to make, but I think that their article dangerously underestimates the importance of having facts and knowledge in one's mind. It's great to know where to look for facts on the computer, but a fundamental base of knowledge tells us which facts to look for in the first place and directs our attention toward understanding what knowledge is relevant in the first place.
Anyway, I don't know anything about Sharon Begley and Jeneen Interlandi, but their article is definitely written with the sort of defensive tone that one might expect from a couple of protective mothers whose children have just been insulted. Here's the thing, though. Maybe instead of cranking out an article in defense of their kids, defensive parents ought to consider taking away the iPods, cell phones, and laptops for awhile, and asking their kids to sit down and read a book. Kids just aren't going to learn anything about the world on MySpace.
Don't trust anyone under 30.

Well, now that I've gotten that little rant out of the way....
The weekend was pretty good. Friday night I had dinner with Ryan and Jamie. Saturday I took Cassidy to Barton Creek, and Saturday night I went out to go see Operation Moon Pie (see yesterday's post). Sunday I had lunch with Jamie and Ryan and had band practice with The Mono E. Good weekend, all in all.

Good luck to Ted Kennedy today as he undergoes surgery for that brain tumor.

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