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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Is this the end of.....

(insert pet cultural sacred cow here)
by Tom King (c) 2012

What got me going this time was a forum post that said in big bold letters:


Electronic entertainment didn't replace active sports and
gamesany more than sports and games replaced
productive work as some feared it would. Each
enhanced our recreational choices. Nothing more.
It included a link to one of those "educational" Youtube videos with dire predictions of the coming crash of the economy,  famine, flood or a massive shortage of cheese. In this case it was the end of "education". Of course this dude wanted to start trouble. Otherwise why be cryptic unless he wanted to get us to watch his "shocking" video and kick up the number of pageviews for his Youtube page's advertising?

As to the premise that something's going to "end education as we know it", I think it's highly unlikely.  Remember:

1. They said photography would kill art.

2. They said records would be the death of live music for the masses (mostly piano teachers worried about that - after all their livelihoods were on the line they thought).

3. They said movies would be the death of books and the theater and vaudeville. It only killed vaudeville and it can be argued that vaudeville needed to die.

4. They said radio would be the death of records. Why buy music when you can listen to it for free on radio?

5. They said TV would be the death of, not only radio, but also the movies and books. Apparently movies hadn't killed books completely yet.

6. They said computers would kill creativity.

7. They said video games would kill creativity.

8. They said the Internet would kill libraries, books, radio, movies and music. All of these, for some reason, have all kept on breathing despite all the murderous technologies that came before.

9. They said that testing would kill "real" education. By this I think some teachers mean the sort of education that nobody bothers to actually check up on once in a while to see if the kids are actually learning anything.

I have discovered that children are pretty much impervious to all attempts to turn them into robotic factory workers or mindless zombies. The German system of graded schools, which the US adopted in the early 20th century, seems to have had, as its purpose, to teach kids to show up on time, do repetitive work, shut up and follow orders. Turns out that's exactly what the Germans had in mind. That is after all how you make productive munitions factory workers. But, despite the arguably sinister intent of the German school system, the similarly regimented school system adopted by American schools seems to have utter failed to squash the creativity out of our own childrens.

Of course, some kids will always grow up to be mindless zombies, but then if they didn't where would we get our politicians and tax accountants from? Anyway, I don't think we need to be entirely discouraged by the educational doomsday prophets. After all it turns out that:

1. Photographs became their own art form and painting continued to flourish.

2. Recordings encouraged people to learn to play music and now they make their own recordings and more people's music is actually heard today than every before.

3. Movies brought stories to life, gave tens of thousands of people jobs putting those stories on film and encouraged thousands to take up writing and music and cinematography and acting. It even borrowed stories from the theater and revived interest in plays. The Lion King started out as a Disney movie before it became a hit Broadway musical. And vaudeville simply went on TV, radio and Las Vegas casino stages. What's "America's Got Talent", but a vaudeville review.

4. Radio actually popularized new types of music and brought genres like country and bluegrass music to a vast new audience and gave us Earl Scruggs whose radio gigs made him a living when he needed one.  Radio actually invented rock n' roll - not a destroyer it turned out, but a creator.

5. Television took radio stories and let us see the action. Radio changed. The theater and TV cross-pollinated to the benefit of both genres and the artists that worked in both mediums.

6. Computers allowed millions of people to produce works of art, writing and create new technologies. Computers turned out to be really good tools and not mind-sucking brain controllers after all.

7. Video games, it turns out, encouraged a generation to create new worlds and new ideas. Video game technology has spurred advances in movie special effects, interactive story-telling has become a whole new genre of writing and can even be used to help rehabilitate and retrain minds injured by trauma.

8. The Internet quickly became the instrument for connecting libraries and book collections everywhere, so effectively that if you want to look up a 200 year old book, you can probably download the entire text from the net in a matter of seconds simply by doing a word search. Libraries have begun putting rare materials online where everyone can look at them and not just the few who can get to Walrus Hollow Maine or the Library of Congress to dig around in the stacks.

9. Education is as it has always been. Any time you place children in proximity with ideas and books and art and music, they have this uncomfortable (for their elders) habit of thinking thoughts you never intended for them to think.

We tend to think original thoughts, despite attempts to indoctrinate us to a single set of values or beliefs. We have an indomitable desire to create that is hard-wired into us.  And our innate free will allows us to choose what we value and belief despite our upbringing.  We can either choose not to be what our fathers were or to be exactly what they were.  These traits of human beings make me hopeful for the world.

And remember, these very traits of humans were what scared Lucifer so badly that he rebelled. He thought God was making a serious mistake to make us the way he did, with unfettered free will. I have to side with God though. I think He did the right thing making us stubborn, resilient and independent like we are. I think there's hope for us - at least those who bother to learn how to use the brains we were given. I think most of us will learn the right lesson in the end, in spite of the best efforts of our teachers to keep the truth from us.

Just one man's opinion

Tom King

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