Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Thomas Jefferson Education - Part IV

Today's post is taken from the companion book to the TJed book I have been talking about. It is called "A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion" by Oliver and Rachel DeMille and Diann Jeppson. In an essay entitled "Attention Span: Our National Education Crisis", Oliver discusses the fact that Americans today have very short attention spans. All of the information we want to get has to come to us in very short "sound bites" as he calls them. We have been so used to watching TV and surfing the net for our information that we have gotten away from sitting at a task for very long periods of time.

I know that to be true for myself. If I can't read something in a few minutes and get out what I need, I tend to pass it by. I have definitely fallen prey to this problem and I see the effects of it in my children, too. That is why they all hate math: it is difficult and you have to sit there for a long time sometimes in order to get it done. They would rather look at the problem, realize they don't understand it, ask me to help them (which usually means that I end up solving it for them) and be done rather than take the time to look back in the book in order to relearn the parts that they don't understand and figure it out for themselves.

That is the whole point that Mr. DeMille is trying to make. He makes the statement that, "a person lacking attention span must either develop it or he will not become educated, and a nation without attention span - and by extension, education - must either gain it or lose its freedoms." (p. 137) A pretty strong statement as to what our country could be in for if we do not learn how to buckle down and stick with hard task of really learning.

In the rest of the essay he states how "the medium of the electronic screen teaches at least five deadly fallacies about education, and consequently freedom:

1. Learning must be fun
2. Good teaching is entertaining
3. Book, texts and materials should be simple and understandable
4. "Balance" means balancing work with entertainment
5. Opinions matter (pp. 139-143)

Remember that the above are all errors, and Mr. DeMille does a great job at explaining just why he thinks they all are. I like the statement he makes during one of his explanations: "I am not saying that everything that is hard has value, but I am saying that most things of value are hard." (p.141)

I've been reading this essay to my kids and we have been having some interesting discussions. Hopefully all of this will help us to transform the learning in our home into something that we can all be excited about and remember as something we all enjoyed doing together.

God Bless!