"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Distractions Are Us, Progress Tells Us So!

A friend posted this article from the Nov. 1, NYT to his Facebook page the other day: "Technology Is Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say."

I'll note that "a version" of this was published as "For Better and for Worse, Technology Use Alters Learning Styles, Teachers Say" in the print edition.  You decide if the web gurus who apply an "SEO" praxis to headlines worked some sticky magic.

Of course, both headlines are full of ambiguities and assumptions.  Just look at the assumption that must be made to presume the reader knows what is being "meant" by the word "technology."

I think though that my favorite headline trick is the "tack-on" to both: "teachers say."

But, it's not a tack-on really, it's the whole story.  This piece purports to describe a "teacher's-eye-view" of how "generally" the fact that the world is full of the "categorically" labeled digital information devices (from computers to handheld gaming devices to Kindle Fires to iPads to Xboxes and so on) and  that kids spend more time "in front of them" than they do in school on a daily basis is both "bad and good" as regards that mythical beast "learning."

A shocking assertion of ambivalence!

But, it must be admitted that the times and "minds" (whatever that means) they are a'changin'; the world, due to its spherical nature and its gravitational response to the sun, turns, or so I'm told.

What I wanted to posit is the intention of the piece: As the ground of our being has shifted, currently, to an electronically digital "self" (please feel free to spend time slogging through the "philosophical" literature asserting our digital accoutrements are ACTUALLY extensions of our brains and so are "a part of us"), teachers have become, are, barriers to the "new learning" in this phase of humanity.
Kristen Purcell, the associate director for research at Pew, acknowledged that the findings could be viewed from another perspective: that the education system must adjust to better accommodate the way students learn, a point that some teachers brought up in focus groups themselves.

“What we’re labeling as ‘distraction,’ some see as a failure of adults to see how these kids process information,” Ms. Purcell said. “They’re not saying distraction is good but that the label of ‘distraction’ is a judgment of this generation.”
What we have here is a failure to communicate!  Er, rather, what we have here is a re-adjustment bureau proposition.  Kristen Purcell has given us the "truth" of this piece--brains are changing, if you label it appropriately then it's all good.  And that is indeed the truth of culture.  Silly teachers and other "adults" can't see this is how the new brain processes information!  Is that all we mean by "think" these days?

And, as is usual, the "blame" (though it must be admitted at some point that we all approve of the change or at least tacitly accept it as human "progress," quoth the blogger), aimed so wonderfully by this "news item" so as to come from a teacher's mouth, is put upon parents.
“They need skills that are different than ‘Spit, spit, there’s the answer,’ ” said Lisa Baldwin, 48, a high school teacher in Great Barrington, Mass., who said students’ ability to focus and fight through academic challenges was suffering an “exponential decline.” She said she saw the decline most sharply in students whose parents allowed unfettered access to television, phones, iPads and video games.
I knew it was the less-than-rugged individual who was to blame (accept it, shirker) rather than the juggernaut of commercial culture that promotes and sells (requires!) brain extensions to be applied in all aspects of life (there's an app for that!).  Permissive fools, you've let us be successful in our one-sided onslaught!  Here's an interesting aside: I'm pretty sure that our public libraries are now community electronic extensions of "indigent" brains.  Heck, you can't seek/find/apply for work anymore unless you do it online.

All of this is meaningless of course.  The plough changed the world--did it change brains?  Probably.  We are our behaviors.  We are immersed in the this new world order.  Don't like it, there's always Africa...unless Gates has already "wirelessed" it...Mountains in Central America?

But I'll admit that the article (which, come now, we must see as simply an editorial in the guise of "reportage") does end with what I find the "last laugh" of the old brain, our Christian culture.  (Can the Lord be properly identified if He returns pixelated?)
Dr. Dimitri Christakis, who studies the impact of technology on the brain...[says] [h]is own research shows what happens to attention and focus in mice when they undergo the equivalent of heavy digital stimulation. Students saturated by entertainment media, he said, were experiencing a “supernatural” stimulation that teachers might have to keep up with or simulate.

The heavy technology use, Dr. Christakis said, “makes reality by comparison uninteresting.”
Ah, the unreality of supernatural stimulation...this is truly the deux ex machina.

At some point we'll be forced to ask, is the machine the extension of "self," or is the organic material we  label "the body" the extension?  That chicken!  That egg!

Quick, look it up at the Wikipedia surely it knows and can tell us and put us at ease.

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