Here's a typical conversation I have with my students, especially this year:
Me: You didn't turn in your essay.
Student: I didn't know where to post it online.
Me: We went over that in class. I showed you where to post it.
Student: I didn't know.
Me: But didn't you read the directions?
Student: Where are they?
Me: Under the assignment.
Student: Where's the assignment?
Me: In the folder labeled "Assignments."
And so on...
"I didn't know." "Well, I heard that..." "Where is that?"
These should be innocent questions from a student, and perhaps they are, but what I've noticed in recent months more than ever before is that bright, motivated students are increasingly incapable of following simple directions. Part of the problem is that they don't know where to find the directions, and second, they rely on word of mouth to explain the directions to them.
Mind you, the directions to any assignment I give is plainly stated, listed, numbered, accented with red print and capital letters, always in the same online folder as the assignment's explanation, due date and online folders where the students submit their work. Seems pretty easy, right? Go online to our school website, go to my class link, find the Assignments Tab, search for the current book we're studying, clicky click, and voila! Inside is the assignment!
In any year and any school, there will always be the unmotivated slacker kid who is only in class because their parents force them to go. I wish all students were bright and motivated, but that's just not realistic. And in truth, not everyone needs to be academically motivated. What I love about the classroom is the variety of students I encounter every day. Many of my students are conscientious students eager to learn and grow and have new experiences, but some of them are more motivated by sports or technology or some other pursuit. Sometimes those are my favorite students because they have to stretch to engage in the literature we study--oftentimes, they surprise themselves by how much they've taken from a work of literature. Recently, many of my less academically rigorous students, my "sweathogs," found a great personal connection to Prince Hal, the main character in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part One. They connected to Hal's struggle to change his wanton ways and to become a mature man of honor.
Anyone can learn, but true learning takes time and energy. I commented in my article about our video culture that reading forces one to be patient and to exercise right judgment, and that when a person is a reader, they can grow in the virtues. How much harder that is these days when nobody has to wait for anything any more. Even watching TV shows has changed--as an Amazon Prime subscriber, I know that I can access their Instant Video feature and see nearly anything I want, commercial free. Isn't that awesome?
It is, but there's a consequence to that, too. Growing up not that long ago, we had to put up with the always annoying commercial break, some of which could drag on almost as long as the show itself! So what do you do during the commercial? Maybe get a snack, use the bathroom, maybe talk to each other, read a quick article in the newspaper, make a phone call. You had to be patient during the commercials. You had to wait. You didn't get everything you wanted right away. There was such a thing as delayed gratification.
What happened to that? When did we get so spoiled that we can't even wait for an internet page to load. I suppose one could argue that we lost our patience when we got the microwave. I use the microwave every day at work, and I find myself getting antsy after just two minutes! What's wrong with me? After all, I'm a child of the 80's! I'm supposed to be able to wait!
So think how hard it is for a kid now, someone raised on Netflix and supersonically fast internet. I even saw a commercial for some device you buy to make microwaving even faster. Can you imagine?
Don't get me wrong, I'm a fully tech savvy chick. I'm a Photoshop artist, extremely knowledgable about all sorts of computer programs, a huge fan of e-books (though I prefer the genuine article), a blogger, a Tweeter, a Facebooker, and the list goes on. The only thing I don't really do online is banking, mostly because I generally don't trust most people. And I seem to be incapable of using a coffee maker, but that's another story. To make a long story short, I'm more than friendly toward technology, but at the same time, I'm happy that I was raised without the conveniences of today. I'm OK with the fact that I used a word processor to write my Master's thesis and that I didn't even buy my own computer until 2006 (I'm now on my third). And I was 30 before I bought my first cell phone.
I'd like to invite you to do something. On this page, I included a poll, asking how old you were when you got your first smartphone--I specified a smartphone because of the obvious advantages they have over feature phones. How many of you have witnessed groups of friends sitting around a table, each person totally absorbed in their own phone, only occasionally looking up to say something quick before disappearing once again into their isolated little virtual world? I'm no scientist, but it's my contention that the younger a person does that, the less able they are to develop social skills and strong academic skills. This article on "digital dementia" goes so far as to say that teens are putting themselves at risk of early onset of dementia because they are so entirely reliant on their phones for everything. They can't remember simple details because their phone does all the thinking for them!
My mom keeps a little Moleskeine notebook in her purse so she can write down things like phone numbers, names, etc. Just the other day, that little notebook came in very handy when her car and her cell phone died on her. She whipped out that little book, borrowed a friend's phone and called me to the rescue. Educators say that when you have to take the time to write something down, using pen and paper, you are more likely to remember the information. In my mother's case, this "old school" way of doing things has benefitted her--when younger people are absent-minded and less capable of reasoning well, my mom is as sharp as anyone, sharper than most, probably. She exercises her mind with a daily dose of reading, crosswords, as well as a holy hour in our parish chapel. Pretty good recipe for mental and spiritual success, right?
Back to my students. One day in class, I told them we were going to have a tech-free day. I had everyone close their school-issued laptops and pull out their books. A few complained because they were using e-books. "Share with your partner," was my reply. No computers. Then, a very bright girl said something extraordinary: "I have all my notes in my computer. I can't remember anything without my notes." And she was serious. This girl is an A student, someone extremely motivated to succeed and learn, yet look at what she had done to her own brain! I made her share notes with a partner, but I'm sure she really struggled that day. The fact that a perfectly intelligent sixteen year old girl was nearly mentally paralyzed without technology shook me up, because I know she wasn't just making excuses.
Following directions takes the ability to observe, to think ahead, to strategize and to plan. You have to reason that the directions for an assignment would be in the Assignments tab, and that they would be connected to the particular work we are currently studying. You would assume that all information regarding due dates would be located in the same place. Therefore, when a bright student confesses that they are incapable of remembering anything independently, that they can't use their own powers of thought to find a simple set of directions, I worry. After all, these are the people that will be in charge of my health when I'm old. They'll be running the country one day, yet they can't even begin to reason through a simple task.
This is a chilling reality that we will have to face very soon as a culture, and as belief in God continues to decline, I have to wonder what needs to happen to reverse this dangerous situation. Lives are at stake, as are minds, and unless we are brave enough to make some serious decisions about how the younger generation relates with technology, we
Witty; cunning; crafty
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