Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tell them what you told them

Mark Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation is stirring up a storm, at least in my classroom. Today I projected the book's Home page. We read the summary comments, then we skimmed the Reviews. So, I said, this is how your generation is perceived - as foolish, narrow-minded, shallow, and puerile. Is this true? Is this your future?

One group of boys immediately found Bauerlein's email address and set about composing a retaliatory email. "Make it a smart one," cautioned G--. "You don't want to sound dumb." The writers decided to have the best writers in the class do a final edit.

Another group of boys copied the email address so they could go home and paste it into lots of those pop-up windows that result in spam. "Puerile," said G--.

A third group of boys went on at length about the negative legacies of Bauerlein's generation - war, debt, homelessness, pollution, global warming... No wonder we are mixed up, they said. No wonder we are bored with everything. No wonder we want to have some fun.

But in each class there were several girls who said, Yes, that sounds like us. We do spend a lot of time trading meaningless texts, images, pictures and sounds back and forth. But that doesn't make us dumb. No, I said, but it does make you seem like it.

One girl suggested that technological evolution should stop - that there should be no more new technologies that exist for the purpose of saving time, cutting corners, and sharing without thinking. Besides, she continued, we are being inventive, thoughtful, and creative - but just about little things. And when we have an idea, the adults in charge don't listen to us.

What you need, I said, is a larger problem to solve, one that you can attack using the technology you already use so well. I showed them the Google Visualization API Gallery. Of course, I said, you first need to take the time to ask the right questions and gather the data. Hmm, they said.

Then I handed out the 12-step checklist process guide for our Book Review Wiki. This is too confusing! many immediately said.

I said, Take it one step at a time, and yes, you do need to read each step. What if, I wondered, I had put the 12 steps into a Facebook profile page, so they could be attacked in any order but also cross-referenced... What if the shorter steps scrolled across the screen, the links were live, and my Voki was speaking the directions...

If Bauerlein thinks this generation of college students is hard to "teach" - wait until he gets my kids in four years.

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