18 March 2011

Someday we'll all smell like feet

This week is the best week in America. Two great American traditions are combined: The NCAA men's basketball tournament and Spring Break. Today, my history kids seeded a tournament of the most influential Americans while a tournament game played in the background. When I was in high school, we had the same arrangement. There was one key difference: I had to watch whatever game CBS had on, and it was fuzzy, because my teachers were getting the signal over the air, on a coat-hanger wrapped in tinfoil. My students got to glance at a game in glorious HD.

Did I spring for an HD antenna? Does my school have HD service? No and no. We used the Internet to watch the games.

This is a great example of the best and worst parts of the Internet. The Internet was where I found the bracket of American history; a great, topical way to have kids review major historical figures. It also provided a distraction, for me and for the kids. But I think you all are smart enough (and good looking enough to boot!) to already see where that argument is going. I'd like to try to explore a different issue with the Internet. Namely, the way the Internet has turned us into a society of 13 year old boys.

So, let's first gain a basic understanding of the things which are acceptable for 13 year old boys to do that are probably not great for a society writ large to do:

13 year old boys love to do most of the following:
Make fun of each other
Poke girls
Stare at girls
Talk to people who think the same things they think
Hang out with their friends
Not shower
Know everything
Complain about how adults just don't understand

So, what do we do on the Internet?

Well, according to Optnet 37% of the Internet has nakedness. So, I suppose the first way that society is becoming like a world run by 13 year olds is the poking and looking at girls categories.

While I once confiscated a phone during class that a student was using to look at porn, I don't think that this impacts schools all that much. Young people have always been interested in what the other half looks like in their birthday suits; all this has done is change the way they find out.  

We make fun of each other: This article at Slate is an interesting look at how me make fun of people on the Internet. He points out the reality that we all understand, that the people we are mocking for any number of foolish things they've been caught on camera doing are real people. I'm just as, if not more, guilty as anyone. I ran student responses that were patently ridiculous. I think the perceived anonymity of the Internet makes it easier to say things about other humans we would never say in person.

I understand that this argument is hardly a new one. However, I think that this impacts education, which is what this blog is theoretically about. You see, students have become more and more focused on cultivating this ironic sense of humor. They spend much more time trying to be funny than actually learning.

We check up on things constantly - Like impatient children in the back of the car, we're constantly asking, "are we there yet"? We check our status, our email, the comments on our blog.

In school, students and parents now have what amounts to constant access to constantly changing grades. This seems like it would be a great thing for student accountability. However, in reality, this just means that students are more likely to hound teachers to grade late work. In the past, there was a "day of reckoning". Students used to have to act like adults and self-monitor their progress. Their parents, in most cases, were kept in the dark. Students either took care of business or got punished. That's how it works for adults. But now, thanks to grades on the Internet, parents never let their children fail.

We think people care what we think - The Internet has made it so very easy to publish your thoughts, and to let people read those thoughts. This means we learn to overvalue our own beliefs. We think that our thoughts are important. I'm just as guilty of this as anybody, obviously, since I'm writing a blog and hoping you're reading it. This is just like middle schoolers writing crappy poetry and songs. They think people care what they feel like. Now all of us feel that way.

This has always infected high schools. There have always been high school students who thought that the world wanted to know what they thought. But now, since adults continue to  believe that beyond adolescence, students feel even bolder about sharing their emotions. It's not a bad thing, but it can take away from the educational mission.

We insulate ourselves with people who think like us - The Internet has allowed adults in society to do what middle schoolers notoriously do. We have become very cliquish. This hurts society as a whole because we live in a democracy, and in a democracy people must understand other peoples' points of view. The more we insulate ourselves, selecting news sources that meet our predetermined attitudes, the less open we are to others. The less open we are to others, the harder it is to reach compromise, and the less the country is successful in moving forward.

Parents increasingly want schools to teach their specific beliefs as facts. All other facts must be subordinate to their beliefs. As a social studies teacher, I am accosted by parents who want to know how I dare to talk about issues which they don't agree with. I feel that the more society segments itself into these self-selected groups, the less parents will be willing to have their children exposed to new ideas, which may be in opposition to their beliefs at home.

Parents have access to never let their children grow up - I think that this is the biggest problem with the Internet and education. The more grades are available online, the more email allows for quick, easy, confrontational conversations with educators, the more students lack the maturity to self-advocate; the more education will backslide. You see, the more parents intercede, the less students are allowed to succeed, because they are protected from failure.

There is resistance to this stagnation, to this over-protection. Audrey Monke, of Gold Arrow Camp, has written about the movement here .

The good news is that the Internet hasn't caused society as a whole to shower less. Except for that portion of Internet users who use the Internet to mostly play World of Warcraft. They shower even less than 13 year olds.

No comments:

Post a Comment