Monday, April 05, 2010

The Digital Native Excuse, or “How I’ve managed to manipulate society into thinking I don’t really need to read, write, or actually interact with anyone”.

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Two things are bound to happen when generations of people start talking about each other. 

First, the older generation is going to insist that the younger generation is “worse” than the previous generations.  Arguments will abound that the current generation has no work ethic, lower moral standards, drinks too much, smokes too much, listens to crappy music (Kesha = T’Pau?), and dammit, doesn’t really care as much as they did back in the day.   

Second, the younger generation is going to insist that the older generations don’t understand them.  Arguments will abound that the older generations don’t remember what it’s really like being a kid, that the present problems are harder than past problems, and that older generations simply don’t understand that some of the “older” ways of doing things aren’t that good and can’t possibly work with the next generation of people.  Of course most of both generations sit on the sidelines and smile in amusement.  Older generations remember what it’s like, but they want a little recognition for the trials they went through.  And younger generations aren’t lazy, they just work hard at different things and want a little recognition that they are important too.     

This is where the Digital Native comes in.  The term “Digital Native” has been given to the generation of students that have grown up around the workings of the Internet.  I’m technically too old to be a Digital Native because the Internet wasn’t big in my life until my first year of college.  However I probably know more than 90% of the generation about the technology they grew up with because I had a mother who worked at Intel in the early 1980’s and warned me that this was coming.  Well, “it” (the Internet) is here and now the debate starts regarding its real place in the realm of education.  Article after article is saying education must change the foundation of learning because some things (social networking) are now much more important to others (actually reading a novel).  Two years ago teachers warned each other in the Blogosphere that getting on Facebook was the kiss of death for your career.  Now half the teachers in my school have a Facebook page and teachers tell each other that Facebook is just the beginning, actually creating your own social networking site (like Ning) is the way to go.  Two years ago it was bad for cell phones to exist on campus.  Now they are a tool in the classroom.  Technology has worked its way into education and those that understand the tools are using them to enhance the practice of learning.

Only that society has seem to forgotten that this generation of kids are still just that.  Kids.  The concept of Digital Nativism has now become a partially legitimate reason to dumb down education to a 140 text Tweet from the White House or an illegitimate blog post about Kurt Vonnegut.  Take the blond haired kid in the picture above.  Cute kid……until he opens his mouth and spouts Digital Nativism at the prodding of his father.  In this video (thanks to Dangerously Irrelevant on my blog roll) the kid states, “Are you going to teach me in a school?”, “Are you going to make me sit in a desk all day?”, and “Is this what you are going to use to teach me with?”, and then he holds up a book.  The kid then goes on to question whether or not the teacher has a grasp of the current technology.  In the end this Digital Native asks all the wrong questions while taking the accusing tone that teachers aren’t preparing him for the real world. 

“Have you been on Facebook?”

“Have you been on Twitter?”

“Have you been surfing?”

“Do you even know what’s on the Internet?”

Um, yeah kid.  Now I’m going to ask you some questions.

“Have you played outside with friends?”

“Can you read a book?”

“Can you write well?”

“Can you do one thing for more than fifteen minutes, and do it well?”

“Do you know there is life outside of the plugged-in world?”

Those are important questions too.  And the video ends with the kid sitting in a nice desk chair with four computer monitors with the likes of Youtube, Facebook, and video games.  It is incredibly myopic to think that students even have this kind of access to technology, much less overhype the necessity of it uphold the fundamentals of education.   

Where does this mode of thinking lead us?  It creates a culture of Dan Browns.  Dan Brown (not the Da Vinci Code) is a Youtube sensation that recently said that institutional education is fairly useless because “facts are free”.  Brown recently dropped out of college because “it was interfering with” his education.  In Brown’s mind college was fairly pointless because everything that you could possibly want to know was available on the Internet.  Who needs a lecture from a professor when Wikipedia has everything in existance?  Dan Brown is not new.  The usual “open education” argument has been around forever, and while there are those that have the motivation to self-educate themselves, let’s remember, most students don’t have any real understanding of the facts on the Internet, if they are even legitimate, or how to put them to any kind of use.  In the end, I want my particle physicists, engineers, and doctors to have college degrees.  If you want to be an entertainer like Dan Brown and show the world how to solve a Rubix Cube, you can remain a pure Digital Native and dump your education.

The Internet is a tool for a variety of things in society.  That tool needs to be appropriately managed by society and an understanding needs to be developed that this Digital Native lifestyle is not a realistic substitute for basics of education.  Reading is critical.  Writing is critical.  Listening is critical.  Focus is critical.  Work ethic is critical.  Critical thinking is…well, you get it. 

That’s my job. 

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