Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wake Up, It's Time for School

The 'Huffington Post' reported on 12/07/10, "Citing concerns over the country's education performance compared to other nations, and the long-term impact of the shortcomings on the future economic viability of the country, the Obama Administration has pushed for comprehensive reforms.

According to the AP,

"This is an absolute wake-up call for America," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The results are extraordinarily challenging to us and we have to deal with the brutal truth. We have to get much more serious about investing in education." "

Reforms? Investing? We do have to get much more serious. It is time for parents and families or caregivers to lay the blame squarely where it belongs. If they would pause their whining and complaining about the state of the educational system they could hear the faint whirrings and beepings and tap-tap-clickings that lead across their doorsteps and straight into the center of their own homes. . .desktop computers and laptops and notebooks, cell phones and game systems, and MP3 players. Pixels and screens and sound-bytes, logins and passwords and user accounts.

How many homes have a dictionary? And I don't mean online or via smart phone. What about a Thesaurus? I can still feel the thin onion-type paper pages of the old blue dictionary that sat on the bookshelf beside my father's chair for as long as I can remember. His mother bought that dictionary when she attended nursing school, and it was passed down to my father as he studied late nights after working long days for his Masters Degree. That dictionary with the worn blue cloth cover was the dictionary I looked to for spelling and definitions and the assortment of other interesting information and facts held in one of the many charts and graphs at the back of the book. I lost track of how many times I heard my dad's familiar words, "Look it up," and how many times I sat cross-legged on the floor or curled up on the couch absorbing the answers to the same questions countless little girls before me had asked countless daddies before mine. Consumed in my own world of wonder and worries and excitement and plans that is appropriate for children, I am certain I never considered the years and years and more-years-than-I-could-imagine that busy hands flipped through well-worn pages of dictionaries in homes much like mine and not so much like mine. And now consumed in my own world of wonder and worries and excitement and plans that is appropriate for mommies, I am amazed at the importance one book can have in a home. One very memorable night I argued with my father over bananas. Why, of course, everyone knew they were fruits. Except for my dad who told me I was quite wrong and to "Look it up." With a shake of my head and certainly a big huff and a sigh I plunked down on the floor to flip to "banana." I wish I could have seen my father's face as he sat in his chair behind my back while I read the words that I knew would prove my superior intelligence. . ."perennial herb". WHAT??? This was a beginning to just one of many many wonderful and interesting conversations I have had with my dad over my lifetime. And our worn blue dictionary oftentimes played a role in our talks as I was growing up. I found out peanuts grew under the ground and confirmed that tomatoes were fruits. I never asked my parents how to spell something and heard them spell it out to me. Instead I heard. . ."Look it up." Which means I had to know how to alphabetize. I learned that if I wanted to know the meaning of some unknown word in a book I was reading the answer was waiting for me in an old worn dictionary. And as I copied spellings and read definitions I saved this information from this amazing book somewhere in my memory. And it became knowledge.

When I began college I remember using another dictionary for the first time. A collegiate dictionary was on my required book list so I purchased one along with all of my text books from the bookstore on campus. As exciting as it was to have this new red book which had a spine that had never been creased and a title across the front attesting that I was a real college student as I now owned a real collegiate dictionary, I remember my thoughts wandering to home and knowing that a beautiful old blue dictionary was still sitting there on the bookshelf next to my father's chair. By the time I began graduate school computer monitors were still as big as small tvs, and the world wide web was a strange new concept that hadn't quite showed up yet. Spellcheck was included on some computer programs, but online dictionaries were a vision of the future scribbled in someone's spiral-bound notebook. Thank goodness. Because of my parents and because of that old blue dictionary I am a good speller who won the third grade spelling bee, my vocabulary is pretty good, and I love words.

So now how many homes have a dictionary? How many parents or families take responsibility for their children's education with the ways they guide and teach and interact with their kids? What examples are they setting? Why are Leapfrog and V-Tech in business? Why are there 9,880,000 results for "interactive educational kids' online games" on a popular internet search engine? What happened to flash cards and museums and zoos and planetariums? What happened to drawing and singing and playing and reading together? What happened to "interactive education" being about what is going on in the home with everyday interactions being teaching opportunities? . . .Or perhaps they are. Many children are growing up with families who are more connected to technology than to one another. Parents are using their smart phones around their children, and text messages, telephone calls, emails, and other social-networking interrupt interactions and conversations. I have seen parents walking down sunny sidewalks with children in tow while chattering away at the phone between their ear and shoulder. I have seen children eating in silence at restaurant tables while their parents stare at handheld screens while type-type-typing away. I have seen children tugging at their plugged-in parents' arms in unsuccessful attempts to get their attention for some amazing-to-a-child thing that crosses their path.

The "educational system" is in crisis? The educational system is a victim to lazy, apathetic, self-focused parents who refuse to manage technology use in their homes and do not accept responsibility for raising their children. For them, their responsibility stops at paying the bills and buying things. It is easier to plug their children in to some device with information rather than provide it themselves. Children and teenagers rely on Spellcheck and drop-down menus with auto-correct options. Search engines provide answers to questions that are mangled misspelled fragments by 'helpfully' "showing results for. . ."what should have been typed correctly. A glance and a quick click of a button is only one example of how the emphasis in learning has shifted from deep-thinking or processing to obtaining superficial knowledge fast. This process change effects people's memory and knowledge retention. Why would children be invested in putting in the time and effort to remember something when they can just 'search' for it again?

China and South Korea have declared internet addiction their number one public health threat. The United States' refusal to address or even acknowledge the very real existence of this problem underscores "the brutal truth" about the concern for and the commitment to the often lamented educational "crisis."

"is an absolute wake-up call for America."

whirrrrr, beeeeep, tap-tap-click. . .Is anyone listening?


  1. See my comment on the "Murdering of Peek-a-boo." JC

  2. I saw it. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, JC.


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