Thursday, May 04, 2006

So are we turning our kids into large lab rats?

You should read neurobiologist Susan Greenfield's comments on the effect of modern technology on brain development from her recent presentation to the House of Lords. Here's an excerpt: "Does this mean young people are acquiring or will need different skills? Memory, for example, may no longer be as essential as it was for those of us who had to learn reams of Latin grammar, but with everything just a click away, perhaps we are at risk of losing our imagination, that mysterious and special cognitive gift that until now has always made the book so much better than the film. I am not proposing that we become IT Luddites, but rather that we could be stumbling into a powerful technology, the impact of which we understand poorly at the moment." I really like the fact that she wants to try to figure out what the huge lifestyle changes (from media) are doing to our kids. Here's a Guardian article on same. When you think about it, this generation of children is being experimented on: with media; with more chemicals in their bodies and environment than ever before; with new scares about our food supply (tuna fish only once a week !); and in verdant silicon valley homes, with crushing levels of competitiveness and scheduled time - as early as possible. Have I mentioned crushing economic pressures and both parents working? Ach! My husband (he's the intelligent one in the family) has insisted that we teach media criticism to our son from about age 2. That's one step in the right direction. Recently I read a posting from a perceptive and dedicated teacher, Lorna Dils, in a curriculum unit that she proposes for 4th grade and up at the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. She calls it The Mystery of the Passive Students, and she writes: "I am concerned about my students. It seems that even though they are identified as Talented and Gifted (T.A.G.), they are increasingly passive in their thinking. They are used to easily comprehending all of the reading that they do in their other classes and there is no doubt about it: they do comprehend well. What they do not do well is apply, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate the information that they read. They also do not retain information for long periods of time because of the superficiality of their reading. I am afraid that my students think of the learning process in the same way they think of watching television. They are used to being passive consumers of television and it seems that, when looking for information in texts, they would like to “‘switch the dials” as they do the channels on their television sets, and have the information they want magically appear before them. They do not realize that searching for information and reading is a very active process, requiring both mental and physical energy. My students are also resistant to thinking at higher levels: these thinking processes require mental energy. They are too used to being passive in their learning; they are consumers rather than producers." Sure, you can buy organics, and you can get the best nanny possible. But how do you combat the inability to think and the little problem of perceiving reality as something you can "change the channels on" as it impacts how your kid will think and will navigate in the world? Novel idea: How about thinking hard about what's important and what your priorities should be. How about putting that stuff in the forefront of your brain and your life, and checking to see if how you live life conforms to your personal ideals and life goals for your kids? But what can you do? You can honor the earth, our world, and reality. You can turn off the TV set and the computer (this will take some discipline) and you can go outside and teach your kid how to play a wierd game of frisbee golf. Or hunt for bugs. You can regularly schedule fun into your desk calendar, and you can work to be spontaneous with your child. You can try to fix things that break in your home - instead of throwing them away or just calling someone - and you can sit around and make up stories together. And you can think of what you want an American child - your American child to embody.** So what are some epithets that I'd be happy to have applied to my kid? As a first pass? Well, in the olden days, Americans were always called "brash" by the British (just as the British culture's power was waning, incidentally), so let's keep that one. (Google brash american for a nod to today's brash Americans.) Or perhaps I should just use "irrepressible in a sometimes mildly irritating fashion?" Ah, Americans! Moving on: empathetic, resourceful, respectful of different cultures, able to entertain themselves by creating a game or toy out of a piece of wood and a rope or rubber band, resilient, will rise to a challenge, will defend what is right, will protect society, and the world, and will educate themselves, and not follow causes blindly. Doesn't sound bad, does it? For a start. Do you see anywhere in the abovementioned list, BTW, learn to game the system so that they can get the most AP units and go to an Ivy league school? Oh dear. I fear that I'm not getting with the program. My son is 5. This means that by high school, according to a local private school we toured (tuition cost: $29K if I remember correctly) he'll be doing 6-plus hours of homework a day! Mommy will have to develop one heck of a gin habit to sit by and smile while that goes on. **To foreign readers: hello! Feed free to list your own country and what you'd like to see your child embody.


Blogger Blue said...

Hey Kate,

Just found your site.

I'm an Aussie with 2 sprogs - nearly 10 & nearly 11 (that nearly is important apparently).

I think the best thing you can do for any kid is talk to them - respect their opinions but draw them out - teach them to think - when they ask why fire it back at them - why do you think x?

Look stuff up together, play with words and laugh - teach them critical literacy - to question - to understand that everything is posed from 1 persons perspective - teach them to find that perspective - WIIFM (whats in it for me) is a good tool.

have fun with cognitive dissonance, and higher order thinking skills eg: what are all the bad things about an umbrella and how would you fix them? What would be the down side of living in an entirely environmentally free world?

Talking & doing and recognising that every person has a job - and the kids job is to learn how to be the best person they can be - one day at a time.

I have fun - I love my kids, but I like them too (most of the time) and other kids seem to like me too - but I'm straight with them - I never lie and I try to avoid putting off answers 'until they're a bit older' - although sometimes I have to :-)

Enjoying your blog - hope that gives you another perspective.

Saturday, June 03, 2006 7:16:00 PM  

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