English professor Cathy Davidson responds to the recent New York Times piece”Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” which is causing quite the stir. She says she’s been teaching for more than 20 years, and she’s been hearing this business of how students can’t pay attention anymore literally since she began. “In fact,” she writes, “how we educators should address this dire problem was the focus of the very first faculty meeting I ever attended.”
She points out that the problem isn’t kids’ attention spans — a poorly defined, unscientific construct. It’s that teaching methods don’t match how their brains work, which, as it is for all generations, is a product of both the time and place where they live.
Virtually all of our current institutions of learning have evolved to prepare youth for an industrial age model of work, the assembly line or the office cubicle: sit still, don’t move, come on time, do this subject then that one in order to pass this end-of-grade item-response test. Who wouldn’t find video games more stimulating than a typical school day—and more relevant to the challenges and obstacles ahead? The problem is not in the students. It is in the mismatch between the way they are being taught and what they need to learn.
Amen, amen, a-freakin’-men. My older kid’s in his third year of public school. It’s a pretty good school run by good, earnest, progressive people who care a lot about the roiling, diverse bunch of kids in their charge. And it’s struck me from Day 1 — just as it struck me in my own school days — that the No. 1 priority, the main thing that school is trying to teach those curious, excitable, bursting kids, those little balls of energy and creativity, is how to sit still.