We can learn anything we want these days. We have the world at our fingertips..literally. If this is true, why aren’t our students all brilliant? Shouldn’t they be? They each carry a very powerful computer in his or her pocket that has the ability to call Figi if they happen to sit down wrong. Why do the members of the digital generation seem so stupid – to be perfectly blunt.
When I was in school – back in the olden days – we were required to cover our books. We would get a paper bag from the grocery store and fold it in such a way as to create a cover for the book. This year I told my one English class (the rest of my courses were theatre) that IF they would cover their textbooks the old fashioned way and write their names on the cover, they would be permitted to leave the text in my closet until it was needed. Of course I heard much lamenting… “Why can’t we just buy a stretchy book cover?” It ruins the book binding, and you can’t write your name on it. “But our grocery store uses plastic bags!” They all have paper ones; you just need to ask for one. “I don’t know how to make one; could you make one for me?” No. Learn how to do it yourself… Google it! No matter what skill you would ever want to learn…there is a youtube video or an instruction page on that particular skill at your fingertips. Of the 32 students in that class, only 6 actually completed the task of making a paper bag book cover to be able to store the book in my closet when not in use. The remaining 26 carried the books in their already stuffed backpacks.
Sally (not her actual name) was at my board diagraming a sentence. Yes, my classes still do that. As the other students in the class began to check their work with hers, some of them commented that they could not read her writing. The writing was beautiful and flawless; the problem was not with the writing but the reader because she wrote in perfect Zaner-Bloser script – it was beautiful! This prompted a class discussion on cursive writing… do we really need it? I asked Sally how she learned the skill, and she explained that her grandmother taught her during the summers that they spent together. Go grandma! As we discussed it some students remarked that they felt stupid that they couldn’t read her writing. I asked them what they could do about that. I had some rather bright students in that class, and by then they had learned what I wanted to hear: “We can learn how to do it!” We then looked into opportunities on-line for learning cursive writing. Zaner-Bloser even has an app for the phone! Some seemed excited about the possibilities… however, if I would put down a wager on how many of them actually followed through… I would put my money on none of them. They have the ability. They have the technology. They do not have the desire… and for many of them… they do not want to put forth the effort. I’m not saying that to be critical; it’s just a fact. For this new generation to put forth the effort to learn something, they need to see a reason… unfortunately, one doesn’t understand the reason for learning something until you need it. That’s where teachers come in.
The Dumbest Generation
Eight years ago Mark Bauerlein published a book entitled The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeoopardizes our Future (2008). He discusses many pertinent and interesting topics concerning our youngest adults, but he makes an interesting point in the preface to the paperback edition concerning the teacher or mentor role in the education of today’s adolescents: “For [kids] to grow into mindful citizens and discerning consumers, then adolescents must break the social circuit and think beyond the clique and the school yard. But they can’t do it themselves – peer pressure is too strong – and so adults must help draw them away…Mentors steer young minds toward deeper wisdom and young tastes toward finer consumptions” (p. ix). They have the world of knowledge at their fingertips, but they don’t know what they don’t know or what they should know. We need to point them in the right direction and whet their intellectual appetites for knowledge and wisdom.
We have so many students who are excelling in school, but they still seem to lack what we “old folks” would call common sense. They have learned to play the game of school, but gaining knowledge doesn’t seem to be a part of many tasks that are required for their standardized tests (we will get into those in another conversation). Baulerlein comments: “Just get the grades, they tell themselves, ace the test, study, study, study. Assignments become exercises to complete, like doing the dishes, not knowledge to acquire for the rest of their lives. The inner life fades; only the external credits count” (p. 3). Our students aren’t “dumb” they have just learned what is absolutely necessary to be considered successful at this particular point in their lives. The immediate is paramount.
Ok… I knew you were wondering when we would get to the mangoes. When I was working on my M. Ed in Educational Technology, we spent quite a bit of time on “just in time” learning. This is learning something right when you need it. Thanks to the computers we carry in our pockets, “just in time” learning can happen any where, any time!
I’ve never been very good at cooking – no, really – I can follow a recipe, but I have always seen cooking as more of a necessary evil rather than a creative process to enjoy. Well, thanks to the internet, I’m learning! Go figure. I can find a recipe, watch a video, and learn how to do things. A few days ago I was having guests for dinner, and I was making a Mexican dish that I found on-line, of course. I was standing in the produce section of the grocery store wondering, “What fruit goes with Mexican food?” I asked Siri, and she helped me to find a good recipe. I gathered the ingredients and took them home.
One of the ingredients was a mango – I actually got three of them. I had absolutely no idea what to do with it… so, back to Siri – “How do you cut a mango?” She found me a perfect video showing me exactly what to do…and I successfully completed the task and made a really good dinner that was enjoyed by my guests.
We can learn anything we want to these days! We just need to encourage our young people to learn things right along with us! Do you know how to make a book cover, write in cursive, or cut a mango? I know where you can go to find out… “Ok, Google…”