Monday, February 18, 2008

Observations on the state of the nation, starting at home

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my twin grandchildren, now a year old, celebrating their first birthday here:

My son and his wife have protected their infants from viewing either television or computer screens based on the belief that it is not good for them. We grandparents have honored the prohibition.

Yesterday, The Washington Post published an article by Susan Jacoby, "The Dumbing of America." Jacoby states that “Americans are in serious intellectual trouble -- in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.”

The main problem? Video. Jacoby: “First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper and magazine reading is by now an old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education levels.”

Regarding infants’ exposure to videos, Jacoby says, “Despite an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at encouraging babies as young as 6 months to watch videos, there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers. In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.”

In a recent conversation with my friend Tod Brilliant, he lamented that the early promise of the Internet was that it would restore the lost art of reading. That’s when the Net was full of text and no videos. Alas, now Tod sees the Internet as just one more way to expose everyone to videos.

Chris Borland, who blogs at The Democratic Activist, and I have been pondering how to be effective in getting the message out that liberals are community-interested in contrast to conservatives, who are self-interested. We’ve been focusing more on the medium, Save the Internet, than on the message. Both matter.

I don’t have any answers at this point, I’m just thinking out loud.

(banner: Save the Internet)


tod said...

The answer? Don't know that there is one. The adoption of more "Waldorf-esque" types of education and parental thinking is a huge start. Of course, I'm biased as the parent of a Waldorf student, but Steiner's system places heavy emphasis on "no screens" and have noticed a connection between screen time and develompental impairment for decades. No 2007 University study needed. We've known this forever. One need only look at the eyes of someone watching the screen - no learning is transpiring. Instead, we're just taking someone completely out of the existence loop.

Solution: Cancel the cable bill. Is that so hard?

Dan Gurney, Mr. Kindergarten said...

Hi Gail,

I read the WP article and enjoyed it. I mentioned it in my post today. And I take a quick look at a book about getting TV out of your life.

As a teacher of young children, I've got to work against the damage done by television on young children's hearts and minds. Attention span is getting shorter and shorter.

I agree with tod, the solution is simple. Pull the plug.

Weedgardener said...

Kevin Drum has a different slant on Jacoby's article:

"But dumber implies a comparison over time. It demands evidence that kids (or adults, for that matter) are less capable, less knowledgable, or less adept than they were 50 years ago. And who knows? Maybe they are. But I'm only willing to be persuaded if Jacoby is willing to offer up some actual evidence first."