August 30, 2009

Who Needs Learnin' When We Have the Internet?

How we read, what we read, how our kids are learning to read...or not.

As a parent, I struggle with the way my kids are being educated. I'm watching standards fall faster than a broken elevator, material being dumbed down at record speed, and the requirements made of my sons pretty much dissolve.

Why, could someone please explain to me, when access to information has never been better, are we requiring less and less of people? And the problem is not just at schooling levels: people in general are glomming onto the stupidest crap around, and spouting 'wisdom' with an authority they have absolutely no right to?

I have a son who reads; I have son who will fake a head injury to get out of reading. They were raised the same way. I read to both, constantly. We are surrounded by books, magazines, papers, everything. And the results are what you would expect. The reader can toss of an essay that is usually longer than required, and the non-reader sits here sweating the night before.

Schools are trying to adapt, as seen in this article from the NYT. Giving students a choice of what they read, rather than assigning a core book and teaching, in class, the structure, theme, and importance of the text, with it's social implications and historical importance. I've noticed a push in this direction around here, a little. My sons have had some small choices in the past few years, which they both make the way you think they would: The Reader goes with a book he thinks looks interesting; The Non-Reader chooses the book with the fewest pages and the largest print.

I like the idea of choice. There are genres I despise (leave me alone all you Sci-Fi and Fantasy freaks), but here's the thing: I know I don't like them, because I've studied them. And looking back, some of the stuff in there is amongst the best work I've read. What student is ever going to choose the complicated work or Shakespeare or Melville unless it's assigned? And there is too much literature that forms the structure and backbone of all the work that's written today. History, history, history. The English language, and its development, is one of the awesome revelations of our time.

Some teachers are smart, and teach the arc of classic stories. They show their students that Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe is a precursor of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which became West Side Story. Heck, many of the kids in those desks are living out their own star-crossed love lives.

I get that teaching something miles above a student's head is pointless; but I'm saddened that instead of bringing the student up, we haul the material down. I like if they can choose from a range of books, and have designated classroom time for reading. But we are doing our children a huge disservice by letting them believe that literature is something they can grab at a drive-thru. There is a reason some things are hard to learn - it's because you don't know it yet.

In my lazy middle age, I might be inclined to let things slide and have my Non-Reader read Captain Underpants as a Main Selection. But that inclination goes away rapidly when I see the level of education in adults. Some sites I read have a pretty decent level of interaction, with some smart, informed people. And then all of a sudden, the idiots pile in. And I've noticed that the fools are increasingly people who have higher education. But they do not know how to read, research and discern amongst the tsunami of information literally available at their fingertips.

Witness the current debate among Americans on health care. Witness people comparing Obama to Hitler. It's astounding. Witness how many people thought Sarah Palin was good enough to speak for them. Witness how easily you can rile up a sector of people with lies, misdirection and FOX News. Witness the Witless.

I do not care what side of the political divide you park yourself on. I am peeved the government in my area that I didn't vote for gutted our schools economically; but I'm just as angry that the current government that I did vote for has gutted them educationally, in a chase for ridiculous standardized scores that reflect little.

But learning to discern substance from garbage begins in our schools. And if our schools allow for too much self-selection as a bromide to 'make them read anything', we will have the generations who believe Danielle Steele writes classics, and Rush Limbaugh is a statesman.

The internet has the ability to make us open-minded and worldly; instead, it seems to be making us stupid, and worse yet, smug and secure in that stupidity. I would say I weep for the future, but the future is already here.


Anonymous buzzwhack said...

At one point, talk must become action. If you want to see change, it's necessary to get involved at the local level and help percolate it to the regional. Talk only goes so far.

August 30, 2009 12:24 PM  

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