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Friday
Sep192008

In defense of postliteracy

...the postliterate as those who can read, but chose to meet their primary information and recreational needs through audio, video, graphics and gaming.
Pew's new survey: Teens, Video Games and Civics was released this week. It finds (big surprise), that:
Video gaming is pervasive in the lives of American teens—young teens and older teens, girls and boys, and teens from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Opportunities for gaming are everywhere, and teens are playing video games frequently. When asked, half of all teens reported playing a video game “yesterday.” Those who play daily typically play for an hour or more. 

Fully 97% of teens ages 12-17 play computer, web, portable, or console games.
And how did they spend their leisure time prior before there were video games?
Would 97% of kids report reading for pleasure?
Would 50% say they read for fun yesterday for an hour or more?

Are we already "postliterate?"

On another note,  I earlier argued "that postliteracy may be a return to more natural forms of communication - speaking, storytelling, dialogue, debate, and dramatization." and that we have an irrational bias toward print as the best way to communicate and preserve information due to our own success using the medium.

So it was interesting to read a new study from the Kaiser Foundation finds that when information is embedded in a television program, people remember it. Well, duh. Story, drama, dialogue...

Television as a Health Educator: A Case Study of Grey's Anatomy reports (from the press release)

In order to document how well viewers learn health information from entertainment television, the Foundation worked with writers at Grey’s Anatomy to embed a health message in an episode, and then surveyed viewers on the topic before and after the episode aired. The storyline involved an HIV positive pregnant woman who learns that with the proper treatment, she has a 98% chance of having a healthy baby. The study found that the audience’s awareness of this information increased by 46 percentage points (from 15% to 61%), a four-fold increase among all viewers. This translates to more than eight million people learning correct information about mother-to-child HIV transmission rates from watching the episode.

Schools and libraries take note. We are living in a postliterate society. Are we acknowledging and supporting or in denial?



Wednesday
Sep172008

Educational romanticism

...our studies indicate that people who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general. Rath, Strengths Finder 2.0
My desktop background is always a photo of my grandsons. I do this because I love them, but also as a guide to my thinking about education. Both these little boys are smart, charming, cute and full of mischief. But they are also developing rather different personalities and talents. Like my own children, they are both exceptional - in their own ways.

I thought of kids' differences a lot after reading Elona Hartjes interesting post on her Teachers at Risk blog that criticizes educational romanticism. Ms Hartjies gave a name to a concern I have often felt as well.
The cult of educational romanticism is setting kids up for failure. The sooner we accept that not all students have the intellectual ability to become anything they or maybe more importantly any thing their parents want them to be, the better. We need to stop setting kids up for failure by pretending that they can do anything given the right amount of support at school. Let me tell you here right now that’s not the case.
Ms Hartjes accuses parents of educational romanticism, but it is also a trait well demonstrated by politicians. In Minnesota Algebra I is now an 8th grade requirement so that ever higher levels of math can be required for graduation. Biology, chemistry and physics are now all required courses. Proficiency on the math graduation test was set so high only 30% of our kids passed it - a level set by the political appointees at the Department of Education, not educators.

What all these increased requirements mean, of course, is that kids can take fewer electives. More math and science means less art, music, languages, tech ed, and business classes can be taken - truly fewer chances for kids to work in areas where they may excel. Areas in which they are quite likely to become very productive members of society

Of course everyone needs a basic proficiency in math and science. But does everyone need to know physics and trigonometry? To be frank, I seriously believe neither my son nor I would have completed high school given these requirements. And it's not because we are stupid (at least my son), but that our talents lie in areas other than math and science.

I am loathe to use sports analogies, but physical romanticism would never be considered. That all children would be able to run the mile in four minutes or be six feet tall is absurd. That football and tennis would be identified as the sports for success in the 21st century and higher proficiencies in those deemed so important that other sports are seen as nice extras is ridiculous.  If we used an educational romanticism model in sports, Michael Phelps today may well be a frustrated quarterback.

Tom Rath in Strengths Finder 2.0 argues that people are happier and more successful when using and developing their natural strengths than when they are trying to compensate for their weakness.

Why does this not hold true in education as well?

See any signs of “educational romanticism” in your educational system?

Sunday
Sep142008

Your source for humor?

 

"When a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth." - George Bernard Shaw

I have always read newspapers starting with the funny pages. I read (and pass on) the jokes in my e-mail before opening any other message. I watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but not CNN. And my first choice of movie is usually a comedy.

Costa and Mallick include Finding Humor as one of their Habits of Mind. - those attributes shown by people "having a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems, the answers to which are not immediately known" - and write:

People who engage in the mystery of humor have the ability to perceive situations from an original and often interesting vantage point.  They tend to initiate humor more often, to place greater value on having a sense of humor, to appreciate and understand others' humor and to be verbally playful when interacting with others.  Having a whimsical frame of mind, they thrive on finding incongruity and perceiving absurdities, ironies and satire; finding discontinuities and being able to laugh at situations and themselves.
Not a bad habit to cultivate. And a person's sense of humor needs cultivation.  To that end, I have some must-read humor websites that I read on a regular basis:

  • Most peope know of Garrison Keillor from his NPR Prairie Home Companion programs (that are available as audio downloads), but I enjoy his Old Scout political columns even more. (You need to be a wee bit left of Ann Coulter to appreciate the writing.) My only complaint about them is that I can't seem to find an RSS feed on the Minnesota Public Radio site.
  • I think we all know The Onion's hard hitting print newstories (National Endowment For The Arts Funds Construction of $1.3 Billion Poem), but their website is also a great source of audio and videocasts as well.
  • And of course Despair.com has my favorite greeting cards but also has a blog, videos and podcasts.

One chapter in Machines Are the Easy Part; People Are the Hard Part, reads

34.    Work a little humor into every communication effort.
What did Ole say when the Kinsey Sex Survey called and asked him if he smoked after sex? “Don’t know. Never looked.”

All right, it’s an old joke, but it made you keep on reading. There is really no excuse whatsoever not to inject at least a little humor in to every communication effort you make. It’s a mistake to confuse dryness with professionalism.

If you want the head paying attention, you have to get the heart involved. Humor is probably the easiest way to evoke an emotional response. (A groan is an emotional response, right?) You can elicit anger, fear or sadness to get attention as well, but for my money smiles do the job better.

Oh. I wouldn’t make my jokes any racier than the one above.
Your favorite source of humor? Blue Skunk readers want to know! Oh, and next time I read something you've written, it better include at least one chuckle!


Illustration by Brady Johnson.