Reading in the Dark

March 13, 2011

In several of the articles I’ve written, I have bemoaned the fact that our children are not being taught properly and that we are spawning a dumbing down of America.

Some of my major points have been that there may come a time when we have no electricity and therefore, no capability of using our cell phones, computers, and a myriad of other electronic devices.  I was less concerned about our timesaving conveniences and more concerned about our children not being able to function without the gadgets they depend on.

Recently, I ran across an article that detailed the new vision of schools.  One of the high schools has done away with textbooks because the content is entirely digital.  They are trying to combine online courses with face-to-face instruction.  One of the high school principals was quoted as saying, “To be educating kids with a blackboard and chalk in an age where you don’t have to memorize the 50 capitals of the 50 states because you can Google it really quickly.”

This thinking is so flawed that it’s no wonder our children are getting mentally lazy.  There is a lot to be said for being able to memorize things.  The old expression is true: use it or lose it.  If you don’t use your memory every day, eventually you won’t be able to recall important details that might be crucial to your life.  Not everything is on Google; some things you just have to store in your head for future use.

I remember reading a book about a soldier who had returned from war.  He was injured in an explosion and had lost all his facial features.  He couldn’t talk or hear so he had no way to communicate what he was feeling.

As he laid in the hospital bed, the only thing that still functioned was his mind and he suffered enormous frustration because he realized that he had never used it.  He hadn’t read any books and hadn’t been interested in learning anything and now he had endless years ahead of him with nothing to occupy his mind.  He kept wishing that he had memorized something so that he could have something to think about instead of this vast wasteland of nothingness.  The book had an enormous affect on me and from that point on, I kept testing my memory on everything I read and heard.

Since children are no longer required to memorize facts and store thousands of pieces of information in their heads, we must now take responsibility for producing a generation of children who have to be entertained by expensive gadgets and who will have difficulty functioning without them.

We have only to look at what is happening in Japan to see that our children might not be able to cope with surviving natural disasters.  As of yesterday, one of the newscasts said there were 5.6 million homes with no electricity.  Simply put, they can’t use their computers or get on the Internet.  They can’t use their cell phones and they can’t text anyone for answers to personal or business problems.

If the Japanese children had been educated as poorly as American children, they wouldn’t even have learned how to write in longhand so they couldn’t document what has happened and how it has affected them.

For the people in Japan, whose children are still being taught traditional skills, they have an edge.  If they have a flashlight, they can still read a book, write a letter, calculate their expenses, and take care of whatever odds and ends that one can accomplish in the dark.

For the people in America, most things would come to a standstill.  Our children are being taught to read things on a computer screen rather than in books.  Anyone who has a love of reading will tell you that your comprehension is more acute when your eyes are looking down at a printed page than looking up at that same page.

Whenever I have had to edit a book or someone has edited one of my books, we have always commented on the fact that we have to do a printout of the pages so that we can look down at the pages to catch the mistakes.  The publisher of the newspaper who printed my weekly Advice column must have used his computer to edit his column because one day, his headline in bold print declared that someone whom he admired was his “roll” model.

In keeping with the new vision of education, the old saying has become the new philosophy: “The more you study, the more you learn. The more you learn the more you know. The more you know the more you forget. The more you forget the less you know.  So why bother to study?”

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