I watched an interesting documentary on YouTube the other day. No, it had nothing to do with white guy contortionists, or cats, or auto accidents at a Chinese intersection. It was about the spine-tingling excitement that is education in our modern society. The narrator – who had a British accent so clearly he knew what he was talking about – explained that the overriding issue in education these days is getting kids to focus. ADHD has overtaken skinned knees as the most prevalent childhood malady and the entire educational system, plus half the pharmacological companies in the world, are devoted to forcing children to tune out all external noise and remain laser focused on multiplication tables or the literary rantings of a guy who’s been dead for 185 years.
The documentarian’s point – and remember, he’s British so he knows – was: how in God’s name can kids stay focused when the onslaught of technology has children bathing in stimuli 24 hours a day? And it’s tough to argue with him.
When I was a kid, I had a TV in my room. Occasionally, I’d do something shocking, like curse out a neighbor or rant for 15 minutes about how much I hated my mom’s oatmeal (can’t imagine me doing that, can ya?) and, in response, my parents would confiscate my TV. With nothing else to do but stare at the wall or flip through an Encyclopedia Britannica, studying didn’t seem like such a terrible idea. It was easy to focus back then because what the hell else was going on? Some neighborhood kids were playing “over the line”? A bird was chirping? Whoop de doo.
Recently, my chip off the old block daughter told my wife to “shut her pie hole”. I guess letting her read some of these blog posts wasn’t the best idea. In any event, my wife rips the TV out of my kid’s room as punishment. Seems reasonable, right, since she’s lost a privilege that will leave her bored enough to contemplate what she’s done? Uh, not exactly. My daughter proceeded to spend the next seven hours playing Plants v. Zombies on the Ipad, right before she downloaded three hundred hours of I-Carly to her Ipod in between checking out internet sites bashing Justin Bieber on her I-Touch.
And we expect kids not to have ADHD? They can barely fall out of bed without being drowned in a multi-media tsunami. If you’re not hyperactive in the world that Steve Jobs created, you’re probably missing a chromosome. Forget about focus, forget about concentration, drop your kid off at an Apple store for a weekend and they’ll have cancer cured before school starts on Monday. Even the prospect of failing out of school doesn’t scare our kids anymore so why focus on doing anything academic? Beating the Japanese in the dangling participle section of standardized tests doesn’t mean squat to these kids. Hell, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both dropped out of college. Those two couldn’t even concentrate on picking up girls at a fraternity party and it didn’t seem to hurt their employment opportunities much.
We need to figure out ways for kids to survive in this world without being constrained by the lessons we learned in the ’70’s. Forget about the old focus on focus – it’s almost as irrelevant as everything you and your 40yo friends do every day. Let your kids run. Let ‘em play. Don’t worry if they haven’t read the blackboard since kindergarten.
Maybe their creative juices will be roiled enough that, one day, they’ll come up with the 22nd century’s version of Facebook. Then, they can focus on their investment decisions and you can sit around the most palatial nursing home focusing on the instructions for your colostomy bag. Hopefully, there won’t be anybody British around to explain why you’re doing it wrong.