Saturday, September 19, 2009

Losing It

Generation X, Meet Generation ADHD

fossilsWe have abrogated responsibility of our children to electronic media, allowing them to suckle for hours at the glass teat, to endlessly mash game controllers, and to wander through the internet with little to no impulse control. We then assuage our collective guilt by claiming this undisciplined intellectual response to be the new literacy. If we can claim that falling reading scores merely indicate a change in HOW children read, we might feel better about ourselves as a society. By all means, let’s test children on their ability to think like a pinball, to pick out the most obvious points in a text, and to reduce communication to its most basic elements. Forget about critical thinking skills developed by deep reading. Let’s abandon a self-disciplined approach to intellectual study. Instead, we can reduce ourselves to our most primary strands of thought and fulfill Taylor’s concept of sacrificing the individual for the system ( warning—at the time Taylor wrote, the system represented sweat shops , child labor, and unbridled exploitation of labor).

In an essay in the Atlantic Monthly, Nicholas Carr makes makes an interesting case about the affects of prolonged exposure to the internet in his essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?“. Carr states: ” When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.” Carr believes, and I agree with him, that ” our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged” with the sort of scanning that most people consider online reading.

At a convention panel in Michigan, Tamora Pierce, a writer of young adult fantasy, during a discussion of declining literacy, embraced the idea that children weren’t reading less, but rather they were reading more online and reading differently. She seemed to feel this move from a traditional reading style was a good thing and that perhaps it was a liberating reaction from the pedagogy where, in her words, children were only being taught to read the works of “old white men.”

If the internet is truly affecting us at a neurological level and if Generation ADHD is losing the ability to remain focused on longer works of literature and to operate at deep levels of thinking, then we need to address this as a society head on and not find ways to accept decline by redefining it to make it palatable.

13 comments:

Joe Ponepinto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Ponepinto said...

Blogger Joe Ponepinto said...

Now you're talking. When schools fail to teach critical thinking the result is just what corporate America wants—a population of buffoons who don't know the difference between "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Newshour," who think the opinions on Fox News are based on "facts," and who will buy just about anything because they believe commercials are honest.

Too bad Tamora Pierce felt it was necessary to jump on the "hate the evil/clueless (take your pick) old white men bandwagon." Is she talking about Steinbeck? Joyce? Bellow? Geez, maybe those guys had something to say. At least they were encouraging people to think. It serves no one to stereotype a group of people, and shows a lapse in her critical thinking, perhaps the result of too much time on Twitter.

But in some respects your post echoes one I posted on my blog a week or so ago, about young writers who could benefit from reading well-crafted works of fiction instead of comic books and Twitter (and which at first you savaged as elitist propaganda).

By the way, I just received my copy of Atlantic Monthly, and couldn't help noticing the articles were much shorter than usual. Apparently even they are starting to believe that readers are finding it difficult to stay focused on long pieces of writing.

Steve T. said...

" ... instead of comic books ..."

I'm sure you're excluding Maus, Tales from the Farm, Asterios Polyp, Watchmen, Ghost World, Bone, Persepolis, Summer Blonde, Y: The Last Man, American Splendor, Blankets, Fun Home, Love & Rockets, American Born Chinese, Get a Life, Gone Zombie (hey, how'd that get there?), Fables, Criminal ... well, you get my point.

Of course, I get your point (and Stewart's), too. Just had to "represent," as the kids say nowadays.

Stewart Sternberg said...

JOE
I actually think this issue should receive immediate attention. It's being addressed, but hardly with the attention it deserves. Maybe you're right though, maybe reading quickly and answering 'yes' or 'no' is the desired response. That way its quantifiable in a binary world.

STEVE
I love comics. I read them regularly. I'm not a fan of the clean healthy comics..gimme something that rots the mind any time. Of course, like all things, in moderation. 'Nuff said.

Charles Gramlich said...

Every time we dumb down, someone makes an excuse and tells us how it's for the better, usually by insulting old white men. Well, they aren't reading old black men either, like Ellison or Baldwin, or Du Bois. and those are just as big a loss.

Anndi said...

And so, you've put your finger on why my daughter attends what is deemed an "alternative" grammar school. A place where children are taught how to learn and encouraged to question the world around them.

Stewart Sternberg said...

CHARLES
I think some of the statements she made were for shock value. She certainly didn't choose her words carefully, although she might be quick to argue that she did. One other individual on that panel, a writer who I will leave nameless, because I will have to work with him soon, suggested just "blowing up the schools and starting over". It was interesting that neither of those individuals were educators.
ANNDI
I am sorry that you feel the need to send your daughter to an alternative school. I run an alternative school, but I am quick to give positive strokes to the traditional high school. The issue is that not all schools are a good fit for everyone.

Barbara Martin said...

It's not just children, but adults too have a shorter attention span. It seems the information presented in any new book needs to be up front and close or an agent doesn't want it.

It also appears from your excellent post that children are no longer independent thinkers, that they are reading for their quick fix to information. Very sad.

L.A. Mitchell said...

So true. We're all growing desensitized to hyper-speed and instant gratification :( At times, I have to stop and force myself to focus, mostly because I'm multi-tasking on four or five things at a time. Never while driving *pet-peeve*. It's so critical our society continues to value things that are not so bite-sized and quick, but there are no easy answers.

Hope you're doing well, Stewart :)

Stewart Sternberg said...

BARBARA
One thing we should look at is not just the affects of online culture, but the social aspects that are affecting the youth as well.

LA
Sometimes I feel like we're all part of a carousel that's speeding up and spinning out of control.

Jon said...

I would comment, but after so many big words, I kind of forgot what you were talking about. You need more pictures. And shorter chapters. And more pictures.

Ewa said...

The problem is not limited to our kids. Granted, I’ve always loved reading, made sure my sons read a variety of material, and discussed issues more deeply with them, which has helped them immensely in college. Unfortunately, when they got to high school there was a lot of peer pressure on them because reading was considered “gay” and “something girls did.” But then what were the girls reading? Nothing that promoted critical skills either. I saw that as a serious problem, even back then. So when groups of kids would gather at my house, I’d draw them into more “serious” discussions (including religion, sex, and politics—broke taboo, that so-called “etiquette” rule.) At first I was seen as a freak because, these other kids informed, their parents “didn’t do stuff like that,” which surprised me. However, these kids warmed up to the idea when they saw how it was related to other issues that affected them. When they’d ask how I knew about “all this stuff” (stuff, a curious word with multiple meanings), I’d tell them I read various books about it, which got them curious enough to start reading more seriously. To this day, when those kids, who are now young adults, return for holidays and have a party at my house, they end up in the back room, where I’m usually writing, and start discussions about diverse (and often very complex) materials they’ve continued to read.

I found more graphic examples when I joined various book clubs. Interestingly, all the members were always women and they never wanted to read anything “difficult.” In fact, any woman who thought outside the box or more deeply about issues was actually accused of “thinking too much.” CRITICAL thinking was labeled as “negative,” as opposed to “serious,” and the “only think positive” fad barred anything that might be seen as negative or uncomfortable. (A repeat of the 50s Golden Years, as it’s been called?) Serious introspection was shunned, taboo. They simply wanted everything to be “nice,” to have a “happy ending” (an extension of the fairy tales they read as girls?), and to just make them feel “safe.” Interestingly, when books on Islamic countries grew popular, they might discuss rape in foreign countries in a way that pointed a finger at “them,” but a woman who drew attention to the problem of rape in our country was quickly silenced and accused of “negative thinking.” It’s as though many believe that if we SIMPLY ignore problems, or anything complex, it will MAGICALLY go away. Pass the buck, let someone else take care of it, or just find someone else to blame. How’s that working for our “quick, easy, fast” society? Perhaps the issues Stewart brought up are not taking seriously because that would involve more critical considerations of who we are as a culture, as opposed to simply believing we are “right.”

Stewart Sternberg said...

JON
try phonetics
EWA
You raise some interesting points. I'll stand back from the gender issues at this point though and instead say that you are dead on in that the issues of cultural reform are incredibly threatening to people. I would go so far as to say that the reform you are referring to would threaten, in some peoples' minds, the American identity.