Saturday, October 11, 2014

Generation Specs

Apparently, the Millennials aren’t very smart.  No, really, there’s even a book on the subject: The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.  Falling just outside this maligned designation, I’m rather fond of Mark Bauerlien’s title, and I enjoy confronting my students with it.  Their reactions generally veer from woeful acceptance: “Yes,” their sad little eyes say, “yes, we are,” to righteous indignation, “who does he think he is!”  Regardless of the student’s emotional response to Mark Bauerlien’s published impertinence, the book is a capital conversation starter and a fine segue into discussions on parenting, technology, consumption, and even philosophy.  On particularly diabolical days, I’ve been known to divide classes, force them into a little research, and then let them go at it Law and Order style.  The resulting class session neatly encapsulates one of the more important debates of our age, and offers a nice rebuttal to Bauerlien’s assertion: these kids are smart, you just have to get them away from them:

Lacking a personal video to prove this, I’ll instead introduce one of my teacher-crushes and let him do it for me.  Mike Rugnetta has made over 100 brilliant and funny shorts for the PBS Ideas Channel, and, this close to Halloween, I’ll go with his talk on Zombies.  Regard:

Great stuff, right?  Well, your opinion might vary according to your age.  Remember the expression, “if it’s too loud, you’re too old”?  In this case, it’s more like “if it’s too fast, too mashed-up, too multi-faceted, too self-referential, you’re too old.”  Rugnetta is delivering a fusillade of fine information on the topic of zombies, his thoughts and ideas ranging carelessly (and pointedly) from pop culture to classical sociology, from low brow to high.  He colors with all of modern human experience, and he’s not afraid to go outside the lines.
Now, the most common invectives lobbed at Millennials accuse them of a lack of concentration, diligence, and the ability to think deeply.  And some studies bear this out.  However, the brain exhibits remarkable plasticity, and while technology and modern life may weaken some skills, it’s actively strengthening others.  Video games and multi-layered social engagements train young people to access and absorb a great deal of information quickly.  Refer back to Rugnetta’s rant on zombies.  Ideas are relayed via video, text, audio, and image simultaneously, resulting in a thought-collage rather than a one-dimensional point.  The advantage of such a system is readily apparent though still undervalued and certainly underserved.

As a literature professor, I can surely appreciate the importance of concentration and deep reading.  However, as a pop-culture teacher, I can also value stimulation and multiplicity.  Reaching students and providing a meaningful education means not choosing one over the other, but rather utilizing both, and in so doing engendering a learning environment everyone can benefit –regardless of generation.

No comments:

Post a Comment