"Nincompoop generation?"

From the Associated Press:
Second-graders who can't tie shoes or zip jackets. Four-year-olds in Pull-Ups diapers. Five-year-olds in strollers. Teens and preteens befuddled by can openers and ice-cube trays. College kids who've never done laundry, taken a bus alone or addressed an envelope.

Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? And do we have only ourselves to blame? Or are some of these things simply the result of kids growing up with push-button technology in an era when mechanical devices are gradually being replaced by electronics?
From my perspective, the answers are: possibly, probably, partially. The more complicated answer is that we no longer seem to be teaching kids to think critically. Further, to the extent that such a thing can be taught, we've failed to teach children the joy of learning new things just for the sake of knowing them.

I'm increasingly convinced that the learning process is at least as important as the thing that's learned. We were discussing the other evening the many "useless" things we learned in high school and college: quadratic equations, queuing theory, organic chemistry, how to use carbon paper. With an infinitesimally small number of exceptions, none of these things are important to our careers or everyday lives, and we all knew that even as we were going to class, so why bother?

I think the value was in the mental processes needed to figure out those various things. We were challenged to solve problems that seemed well beyond our grasp, and regardless of whether we mastered the arcane knowledge, our minds were improved by the attempts.

I fear that nowadays, when so many teachers are required to gear their instruction to standardized testing, memorization has been substituted for thinking. Life is not a multiple choice test, it's an essay exam that we're constantly writing. Or at least it should be. My fear is that for many in the upcoming generations, it's just a series of sound bites and text messages, and that we're eventually going to pay dearly for the mental laziness that we've given our children permission to adopt.

8 Comments

Eric, we often comment on what all our great grandkids know and can do at an early age in the tech field. However, they are also learning lots of the basics from grandma and grandpa, like cooking and tying shoes and the love of reading. They may be the exception after seeing some other kids. I think it starts in the home and extended family many times. Maybe coming from a farm background helps too.

There's this nasty misconception that our jobs as parents is to ensure that our children have an easier life than we had. But as you've noted, the helicopter parent model only makes matters worse in the long run; kids aren't being pushed to learn, to experience the consequences of their actions, to solve problems. We aren't letting kids live their own lives.

And similarly, we've allowed the misguided notion that technology is always a good thing to pervade our children's lives in ways that will, again, have very negative results in the end. We can't tolerate the idea of our kids being bored for even a moment, therefore they must plug in a DVD to endure the 10 minute car ride to the grocery store or school. We've deluded ourselves into believing that, for safety sake of course, children NEED cell phones. Few adults I know can truly justify a NEED for a cell phone (versus a want), so I can hardly imagine why in the world a child would need access to an instantaneous, continuous communications device. We're grooming children behaviorally for disorders like ADD and ADHD by perpetuating their desire for immediate (and constant) gratification.

My friends think I'm some kind of throwback Luddite, but I'm determined to give my son the tools he needs to thrive in the real, analog world before I allow him to plunge headfirst into the digital abyss. I'm totally opposed to the notion of computers in the classroom at the Elementary school level. I'm much more interested in him learning to draw or fingerpaint than be able to craft Powerpoint presentations. (Some schools actually begin teaching that in Kindergarten!) I'd much rather he know how to have real interpersonal communication - y'know, actual talking - with people rather than be a proficient texter. I'd rather he know how to think a problem through than to be adept at Google.

Call me crazy, but I'm convinced there's a Y2K-like dilemma looming on the horizon when Gen Z hits the workplace and possesses none of the skills with which to actually get things done. Just look at the problems associated with the self-entitled, boorish Gen Y folks on the job. That's just a taste of what's to come.

I agree with the thoughts above, but after having had a young step son for some years, I'm convinced that part of the problem is a lack of unstructured time for kids. In my case my XWife had something planned for the son all hours of the day with little time left to be able to develop his imagination.

Cindy and I were talking about this at lunch. She had read your blog earlier and that conversation led me to make sure I read it today. I see your side of this but then I see the kids in our public school system that have taken part in Destination Imagination - whole different perspective if you have seen some of them perform. Part of this I see as my grandparents wondering why their kids can't hitch up a mule team but can drive a vehicle like it was second nature. You learn to use the tools at your disposal - the first of which, hopefully,is your brain.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on September 28, 2010 9:14 AM.

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