Comment on 'Internet Dark Age' (updated)

I don't agree completely with Mr. Lawrence's reasoning.  It seems that his argument centers on human interaction and intelligence being the product of input.  Thus the "garbage in, garbage out" analysis.

I would argue that rather than wax nostalgic over a time we cannot return to, it is more productive to consider how to handle the world that we have.  Mr. Lawrence comments that children in school do not feel the need to learn nor are made to learn mundane things like times tables.  This is a result of educational philosophy that if students are able to analyze and synthesize data, then the mundane things, like addition, multiplication, spelling, writing, will fall into place necessarily.  Most students are apt to collapse when asked to perform these mundane tasks in isolation, or even as part of their "higher order thinking".  They simply have not mastered basic thinking.  They are, for the most part, houses built on mud.

And while this is a sad state, it is also very correctable.  A fundamental shift in educational philosophy away from concentrating on higher-end Blooms taxonomy and allowing students to create their own realities.  Instead, expecting students to master fundamental skills like times tables, sentence construction, reading comprehension - in short, basic truths - prepares them to deal with the avalanche of information, good and bad, that is out there.  Mastering these basic realities, I believe, would also fortify students against the corruptive elements in our world today.

The generation in danger is not one that is exposed to the internet or video games or violent television.  The generation in danger is one that has lost the capacity for critical thinking, one that has not been taught how to think.  And that, obviously, is something we can all take positive steps to correct, if we choose.

Update: Alan Fraser writes:

Comment on the Comments on the Internet Age

Today one of your readers sent in some comments on Lawrence Murray's fine piece entitled Is A New Dark Age At Hand?  The reader writing the letter wrote that:

It seems that his argument centers on human interaction and intelligence being the product of input.  Thus the "garbage in, garbage out" analysis.
I don't think that's what Mr. Lawrence Murray had in mind, at least this description sells short what Murray said.  I think what he was saying is that, thanks to the internet and the amount of time we spend on it, we've lost many skills in many fields of endeavor.  He covered this under his sub-headings:

The stifling of skills

The passivation of leisure

The triumph of triviality
The internet is seductive way beyond the downloading of internet porn (which constitutes an enormous percentage of total internet usage ).  The ability to be diverted, transported, distracted, and "escape" with the effortless click of a mouse has produced a number of social consequences, many of them negative, some of them mundane, others more sublime. 

The financial district of San Francisco used to be brimming with some of the best eating establishments in a city that was renowned for restaurants.  Today there are hardly any left because almost no one downtown goes out to lunch.  "The City" has become a town of geeks where office workers prefer to spend lunch hours with one hand on the mouse and the other on a burrito while they stare at a computer screen.  That's not a good way to develop social skills...human skills, let alone support the local economy.  In fact, it's fundamentally anti-social and in Murphy's words it's "passive."  Which is one of Murray's points. 

We've become a leisured and passive people, thanks in no small part to the internet and television.  Hours spent surfing the net often mean that people are not communicating face to face...or even on the phone.  Do you think this has had an effect on social interaction...on developing relationship skills...on knowing how to interact with other humans?  According to the above cited links dealing with internet porn, it's even had a profound impact on the relationship between the sexes.

It's not simply a question of merely being "exposed to the internet or video games..."  It's really a case of, by now, an ever increasing percentage of the population being addicted to the internet, video games and television. 

Mr. Lawrence comments that children in school do not feel the need to learn nor are made to learn mundane things like times tables.  This is a result of educational philosophy that if students are able to analyze and synthesize data, then the mundane things, like addition, multiplication, spelling, writing, will fall into place necessarily.  They simply have not mastered basic thinking.  They are, for the most part, houses built on mud....The generation in danger is not one that is exposed to the internet or video games or violent television.  The generation in danger is one that has lost the capacity for critical thinking, one that has not been taught how to think.  And that, obviously, is something we can all take positive steps to correct, if we choose.

The phrases "critical thinking" and being "taught how to think" are buzz phrases that have dominated the approach to public education for 20 years.  During this period the mantra has been "we teach our students how to think critically, not 'what' to think...the rote memorization of facts is passé and useless."  It should not surprise then that these last 20 years have produced the least "critical thinking" generation of students ever precisely because they have not been forced...yes, forced...to assimilate factual information.  They are in some respects empty headed.  (Failing Grade)

It's the memorization of mundane facts, from the multiplication tables to historical events (yes, the dates of when battles were fought and which popes launched which crusade and when) that teaches us to think critically.  The excuse the modern day "educators" give for abandoning the multiplication tables or the study of historical events is "why memorize when you can always do it on a calculator or you can look it up?"  Well, would you hire a lawyer if every time you asked him a legal question he'd say "Let me call you back with the answer after I've had some time to research the matter"?  Imagine a physician who didn't memorize the facts and information of his field.  He'd be useless. As citizens of a country with a republican form of government, we must have facts and information in our heads in order to responsibly carry out our responsibilities.

The reality is that 99% of the time when we think we are "thinking"...or "thinking critically"...we are merely remembering...recalling...some factual information that our brains had absorbed through some kind of memorization.  Seldom do we invent anything...even a thought...that is original.  Beware of the promoters of "critical thinking skills;" they are usually educators and they are some of the least thoughtful people you'll ever meet.

The great historian Barbara Tuchman said it best when she wrote:

 "Dates may seem dull and pedantic to some, but they are fundamental because they establish sequence - what precedes and what follows - thereby leading toward an understanding of cause and effect...Numbers are no less basic because they indicate what proportion of the population is involved in a given situation." Emphasis supplied.
A Distant Mirror, The Calamitous 14th Century (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1984) ps. xv-xvi
Cause and effect....what behavior or action will produce which result, in short, why things happen.  Do you think it's important to know about that?   

Fertile memories are important.  Just ask anyone who has a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer's disease.  A person who has lost his memory in a very real way ceases to be himself.  She becomes someone else, not the mother you knew and who loved you.  It's the same with nations.  When a country loses its collective memory...what happened when and why, it becomes a different country.
I don't agree completely with Mr. Lawrence's reasoning.  It seems that his argument centers on human interaction and intelligence being the product of input.  Thus the "garbage in, garbage out" analysis.

I would argue that rather than wax nostalgic over a time we cannot return to, it is more productive to consider how to handle the world that we have.  Mr. Lawrence comments that children in school do not feel the need to learn nor are made to learn mundane things like times tables.  This is a result of educational philosophy that if students are able to analyze and synthesize data, then the mundane things, like addition, multiplication, spelling, writing, will fall into place necessarily.  Most students are apt to collapse when asked to perform these mundane tasks in isolation, or even as part of their "higher order thinking".  They simply have not mastered basic thinking.  They are, for the most part, houses built on mud.

And while this is a sad state, it is also very correctable.  A fundamental shift in educational philosophy away from concentrating on higher-end Blooms taxonomy and allowing students to create their own realities.  Instead, expecting students to master fundamental skills like times tables, sentence construction, reading comprehension - in short, basic truths - prepares them to deal with the avalanche of information, good and bad, that is out there.  Mastering these basic realities, I believe, would also fortify students against the corruptive elements in our world today.

The generation in danger is not one that is exposed to the internet or video games or violent television.  The generation in danger is one that has lost the capacity for critical thinking, one that has not been taught how to think.  And that, obviously, is something we can all take positive steps to correct, if we choose.

Update: Alan Fraser writes:

Comment on the Comments on the Internet Age

Today one of your readers sent in some comments on Lawrence Murray's fine piece entitled Is A New Dark Age At Hand?  The reader writing the letter wrote that:

It seems that his argument centers on human interaction and intelligence being the product of input.  Thus the "garbage in, garbage out" analysis.
I don't think that's what Mr. Lawrence Murray had in mind, at least this description sells short what Murray said.  I think what he was saying is that, thanks to the internet and the amount of time we spend on it, we've lost many skills in many fields of endeavor.  He covered this under his sub-headings:

The stifling of skills

The passivation of leisure

The triumph of triviality
The internet is seductive way beyond the downloading of internet porn (which constitutes an enormous percentage of total internet usage ).  The ability to be diverted, transported, distracted, and "escape" with the effortless click of a mouse has produced a number of social consequences, many of them negative, some of them mundane, others more sublime. 

The financial district of San Francisco used to be brimming with some of the best eating establishments in a city that was renowned for restaurants.  Today there are hardly any left because almost no one downtown goes out to lunch.  "The City" has become a town of geeks where office workers prefer to spend lunch hours with one hand on the mouse and the other on a burrito while they stare at a computer screen.  That's not a good way to develop social skills...human skills, let alone support the local economy.  In fact, it's fundamentally anti-social and in Murphy's words it's "passive."  Which is one of Murray's points. 

We've become a leisured and passive people, thanks in no small part to the internet and television.  Hours spent surfing the net often mean that people are not communicating face to face...or even on the phone.  Do you think this has had an effect on social interaction...on developing relationship skills...on knowing how to interact with other humans?  According to the above cited links dealing with internet porn, it's even had a profound impact on the relationship between the sexes.

It's not simply a question of merely being "exposed to the internet or video games..."  It's really a case of, by now, an ever increasing percentage of the population being addicted to the internet, video games and television. 

Mr. Lawrence comments that children in school do not feel the need to learn nor are made to learn mundane things like times tables.  This is a result of educational philosophy that if students are able to analyze and synthesize data, then the mundane things, like addition, multiplication, spelling, writing, will fall into place necessarily.  They simply have not mastered basic thinking.  They are, for the most part, houses built on mud....The generation in danger is not one that is exposed to the internet or video games or violent television.  The generation in danger is one that has lost the capacity for critical thinking, one that has not been taught how to think.  And that, obviously, is something we can all take positive steps to correct, if we choose.

The phrases "critical thinking" and being "taught how to think" are buzz phrases that have dominated the approach to public education for 20 years.  During this period the mantra has been "we teach our students how to think critically, not 'what' to think...the rote memorization of facts is passé and useless."  It should not surprise then that these last 20 years have produced the least "critical thinking" generation of students ever precisely because they have not been forced...yes, forced...to assimilate factual information.  They are in some respects empty headed.  (Failing Grade)

It's the memorization of mundane facts, from the multiplication tables to historical events (yes, the dates of when battles were fought and which popes launched which crusade and when) that teaches us to think critically.  The excuse the modern day "educators" give for abandoning the multiplication tables or the study of historical events is "why memorize when you can always do it on a calculator or you can look it up?"  Well, would you hire a lawyer if every time you asked him a legal question he'd say "Let me call you back with the answer after I've had some time to research the matter"?  Imagine a physician who didn't memorize the facts and information of his field.  He'd be useless. As citizens of a country with a republican form of government, we must have facts and information in our heads in order to responsibly carry out our responsibilities.

The reality is that 99% of the time when we think we are "thinking"...or "thinking critically"...we are merely remembering...recalling...some factual information that our brains had absorbed through some kind of memorization.  Seldom do we invent anything...even a thought...that is original.  Beware of the promoters of "critical thinking skills;" they are usually educators and they are some of the least thoughtful people you'll ever meet.

The great historian Barbara Tuchman said it best when she wrote:

 "Dates may seem dull and pedantic to some, but they are fundamental because they establish sequence - what precedes and what follows - thereby leading toward an understanding of cause and effect...Numbers are no less basic because they indicate what proportion of the population is involved in a given situation." Emphasis supplied.
A Distant Mirror, The Calamitous 14th Century (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1984) ps. xv-xvi
Cause and effect....what behavior or action will produce which result, in short, why things happen.  Do you think it's important to know about that?   

Fertile memories are important.  Just ask anyone who has a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer's disease.  A person who has lost his memory in a very real way ceases to be himself.  She becomes someone else, not the mother you knew and who loved you.  It's the same with nations.  When a country loses its collective memory...what happened when and why, it becomes a different country.