Have We Failed Them?

A friend of my son told me that her cohort was the most educated generation ever. I disagreed. I told her that while I believe that hers could claim more degrees and graduations than ever before, I didn’t really believe they were truly educated. I feel like way too many college graduates have, more or less, just spent 4-6 years learning a trade, like engineering, or software, or psychiatry. They have a LOT of knowledge in a narrow field of study or two. They don’t come out exposed to the ideas and having had the struggles that teach a person how to use that knowledge in a wise way. For the most part, they aren’t exposed to the great literature, even English majors read excerpts and synopses. They’ve memorized a few dates of events and the capitals of a lot of the countries of the world, but they aren’t taught how empires rise and fall, how history can spin on the smallest of incidents.

This is not necessarily the students’ fault, though they could do much to educate themselves while they were studying for their degree. I believe our schools have failed them and failed us. We depend on this rising generation for their innovation and creative abilities to improve life on earth.

The imagination and curiosity killing starts in kindergarten.

“Don’t explore and play and think; sit here in this chair and color this sheet. No, don’t color it blue. It’s obviously an apple; it must be red.

“I don’t care that numbers ‘just work together’ in your head and you always get the right answer. I care that you follow this strict procedure, carefully and laboriously writing each smidgen of information down, in the proper order. No, 3 x 4 is NOT the same thing as 4 x 3 and 12/4 is not division, it’s fractions, and we won’t be getting to either of those things until next year.”

This is not a rant about it being better in the old days. This is not new in the high schools. It was the same when I was there. I didn’t learn to think and learn and explore and grow. I learned to game the system. Nowadays most kids learn early how to game the system and to do it better than I did. They learn what’s important. Like forming straight lines on the way to the cafeteria. Like making sure you fill in the entire bubble on the score sheet. Like finding out what the teacher wants and giving it to her by memorizing just enough to get by on the quizzes. And you learn to go to the pep rally to cheer on the “real” important high school subjects—sports, and winning at all cost.

What’s changed is that now that whole attitude of making kids open their brains to be spoon fed only what they need to get a job, or into law school or the like, has crept upwards and outwards until colleges are just 13th grade. Plus, going to college is so expensive that you have to rush through as fast as you can, getting the minimum amount of credits however you can. There’s no exploring. There’s no asking questions that won’t be on the test. There’s no remembering or letting what you’ve learned influence you beyond the test. High school was like that when I was there, but college wasn’t. We were exposed to a wide variety of thoughts and ways of thinking. We were challenged to examine our own shortcomings and areas of prejudice. We were exposed to new ideas that our teenage brains just hadn’t been ready for.

Now, kids are exposed to almost everything (thanks TV and internet) at a younger and younger age. This has not increased their thinking skills. It has inoculated them against surprise. It has made them think that because they heard about something when they were nine, that they understand it with the depth of a mature human. They read graphic novels of the great literary books and say they read the book. They can’t be forced to read the “dense” prose of even a couple of hundred years ago.

That’s a large part of why I homeschooled. I didn’t want my boys spoon-fed the “correct” curriculum. I tried to show them a broad range of thoughts and thinking and how to apply their thinking and analyzing to anything they encounter. To be able to learn anything they want to or need to. —If you don’t know something, get some books and find out about it. If you need to do something you’ve never done before, figure out how to learn to do it. Don’t be afraid to take on new things.

That’s how we get innovators, leaders, and artists.

If you disagree (or agree) I would love to discuss this in the comments

Obsolete Information storage types

Learning and the Technology Tornado

Some years, I just don’t want to learn one more damn thing. Most of the time that would have to do with computers. You learn things that quickly become obsolete so that you have to learn something else that… You get the idea.

For instance just in my life:

  • Phone from landline to cell. When I was young not every family had a phone in their house. Now every 14 year old has a phone in his pocket!
  • Floppy disk – 5 inch, Floppy Disk – 3 inch, CD, DVD, Blue ray, Cloud, Streaming (need I say more?)
  • Microwave ovens went from being something on the Jetsons to an every day small appliance.
  • Lights: Incandescent, CFL, LED
  • Hard drives going from 40Kbytes of storage to megabytes to gigabytes to a full Terabyte of storage
  • Transistor radio, Boom Box, Walkman, Discman, iPod, wireless earphones
  • Small black and white TV, color TV, projection screen TV, flat screen TV using LCD, then LED TV
  • Manual Typewriter, Electric Typewriter, Word processor, Computer, Laptop, Phone

This is just quick list of things I’m aware of. I know you could add more. (And do so in the comments.) It’s confusing and seemingly never ending. We invent or learn something new and then something newer or better comes along and that knowledge or that skill is obsolete.

Does this rapid change of what is important information affect the kids and how they learn or don’t learn? They have seen, in their lives, information and technology, and what is important, change over and over.

So why learn it thoroughly or analyze it?

That’s what alarms me. I see this refusal to learn, almost a willful ignorance justified by, “well I can Google that,” or, “I don’t need to know that” “I passed the test, I can forget that and move on to the next chapter.” No point in learning something you can buy or get off the Internet.

That’s a dangerous attitude that can spread to every kind of knowledge. Why learn stuff you can look up? Why understand government? Why study history? Why ask why about anything?

Then this attitude spreads to physical objects. Not perfect? Throw it away. Get a newer, better one. It worries me for today’s children. They are growing up in a disposable society.

Will the next thing to become disposable be people?

We might want to slow this merry-go-round down before it spins completely out of control. Teach kids to ask why, to question, to value intelligence. Or there won’t be enough creative, innovative people to come up with the next new thing.

I realize that perhaps I’m being a doom and gloom old person. Perhaps things are just exaggerated in my aging brain. I hope so.

But just in case, teach your children about wisdom and history and complicated systems like government. Challenge them to analyze and think for themselves and not just buy into whatever fad passes for reality today. Create leaders who think beyond the superficial.

It’s our only hope.

Telling Tales

Everyone keeps telling me the trick to being a writer is to keep writing. I don’t think they say that to painters. But maybe they do.

I have friends who can’t stop themselves from writing. They don’t understand how I can NOT write.  They can tell I’m literate, and I edit their things and help make them better, and I can tell a funny story, so they just assume I must be able to write too. But what they don’t know is that almost all the funny stories I tell are just true.

My family is just interesting and funny, and we go interesting places and funny things happen to us. When I’m with them, and someone does something, I say, “You know you’re going to be chapter 57 when I write my book!” We’ve even decided what the title should be. And Then There Was More Food, because there always is.  We laugh until we cry, and then we go back for more pie.