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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Frontline Does It Again

Saturday, March 08, 2008

I've made no secret of my love for Frontline, the PBS public affairs program. One of its chief merits is that one can watch it without a tv; most of their reports are online.

Last night I watched one that aired in late January, a Rachel Dretzin-written piece called "Growing Up Online." It's a look at the adolescent engagement with the internet and the many, many issues that engagement has to raise. The trailer above lists those out pretty well.

One issue that really caught my attention is the one of schools shifting their modes of instruction to accommodate a generation of young people who have been raised with interactive technology. The producers visited a high school that has installed smart boards in all of its classrooms, and they talked to teachers and administrators who conceded a complete surrender of the curriculum to the agenda of interactive technology.

That strikes me as a mistake. That it is a mistake is, I think, illustrated by an interview with a student who admits to using Sparknotes to read all of his literature assignments. "I know it would be good for me to read all these books," he says (and I'm paraphrasing), "But there aren't enough hours in the day. If there were 27 hours in a day, I would. But there's not. There's only 24, so I don't."

The obvious reality that needs pointing out is that no, you wouldn't, not if there were 27 hours in a day or 97 hours in a day. The technological pattern that shapes our lives (the irony of this observation is not escaping this blogger, don't worry) takes everything. It leaves no room for anything else. Only by a willful act of disconnecting from it does one create space for other habits, be they the reading of Shakespeare or anything else, and that only with some time and effort. The technological pattern wears us out.

And the tragedy of an educational curriculum entirely handed over to the biases of interactive technology is that the teachers have ceded the methodology entirely to the predispositions of their students. They have failed to challenge those technologies. They have run from the fight over whether those technologies aid learning, and they have fallen for the classic myth of the separation of content from medium. But the medium is the message, so these teachers have handed over the message entirely to a technological agenda that compresses everything into manageable bodies of content.

Should education not, instead, model an alternative? Should teachers not make learning about engaging with material (be they literary texts, numbers, or points on a map) as directly as possible? Should classrooms not be spaces that are set aside, both physically and mentally, for learning to take place? And should learning not be distinguished in mode and method from entertainment?

Watch the full program, "Growing Up Online," here.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 5:52 PM


Although I know you do not fish for compliments with these posts, I would like to note how very encouraging it is to see ministers whose call includes work with young people, as yours does, who think thoughtfully and theologically about youth culture, and do not merely capitulate to it.

Although you did not take the step in your analysis from education to the Church, it is hardly a great leap. And it seems evident to me--certainly from the catalogs of youth curriculum I receive at my church office, or from the flyers advertising the work of various para-church organizations focusing on teenagers--that the Church as a whole is following, if not being somewhere out ahead of, the education system in giving over its modes of learning to the current rather than the enduring.
commented by Anonymous Point of Order, 10:06 PM  
Thank you, P.O.O.

The church's educational task was in the back of my mind as I watched the report. And I think you're right. It's all in the name of "relevance," though, right?

Part of me things that young people actually want adults and educators to be irrelevant in some ways. I mean, I'm finding it much easier to relate to high school students as a 31 year-old than when I was 23. Because at 23 I still wanted to be like them. Now I'm old enough that the differences between us are painfully obvious, and I feel I can use those to my educational advantage.

You should totally watch the report though.
commented by Blogger Not Prince Hamlet, 3:56 PM  

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