We’ve been hearing this crap for far too long. American education is going to the dogs. Test scores are down across the board, in Reading and Writing and Rithmatic. On a list of Average National Test Scores the US is stuck somewhere between Liberia and Lesotho.
As an educator, parent and keen observer of youth culture, the Dowbrigade can testify to the ridiculous inaccuracy of these dire pronouncements. Kids today are beau coup smart.
It’s just that the standardized tests they’re using aren’t catching the overt manifestations of the skills and smarts that our kids are developing.
American adolescents today have mad skills, and are able to do tons of things the authors of the disparaging articles and the tests themselves couldn’t dream of, or perhaps even understand. They have mastered text-messaging, instant messaging, multimedia messaging, and are working on telepathy. They can not only program VCR’s, but also TiVos, microwave ovens, remote controls and telephones so complicated that they leave adults with multiple advanced degrees in tears. They can whip an alien starcraft around a wormhole, and switch between a plasma rifle and a rocket launcher in the blink of an eye.
Today’s educational system does not teach them any of these skills, and the standardized tests do not measure them. Now, we are not advocating that high schools start teaching video game skills. But the fact is that our entire educational system was designed in the 1960’s to focus on and evaluate what in 1960 was the operant definition of literacy – Reading and Math.
Today, in 2007, being a literate, participatory member of what our society and culture have become requires considerably more than that.
Despite numerous well-intentioned renovations, curriculum updates and government initiatives, the basics of primary and secondary education have remained unchanged for 40 years. What is needed is a complete overhaul, starting with a reconsideration of what is important for every citizen and resident to know, and what skills are needed to survive and thrive in the 21st century.
Like most teachers and parents, we have noted with alarm a marked decline in reading skills, reading speed and comprehension, familiarity with the classics of literature and simple reading for pleasure. At the same time, the reasons for this are abundantly clear; the intense media competition for available brain cycles.
When the Dowbrigade was a kid, there were a total of three channels on television, almost all of the programs sucked, and the stations closed up shop at 11 pm (with the Star Spangled Banner). The closest thing to video games we had were an Etch-a-Sketch and Magic Rocks. If you think today’s tubers are mindless zombies, you should have seen us watching Magic Rocks grow multicolored moss. It took days.
Quite simply, we became an inveterate reader because most of the rest of our life in a bland, white middle-class suburb in Upstate New York was insufferably dull. We burrowed under our covers after bedtime with a flashlight and a book because we were starved for entertainment and intellectual stimulation which only Isaac Asimov or Ian Fleming could provide.
We are absolutely certain that if we were that age now, we would be consuming alternative media at an astounding pace and reading little if anything,
Which is not to say that having strong reading skills is not still a desirable condition, or that familiarity with the classics is not a sign of culture and education. But having worked one’s way through A Farewell to Arms or A Tale of Two Cities is no longer a prerequisite to understanding our world in 2007. Rather, it is more a sign of sophistication, like knowing how to play croquet or cook a souffle