12.05.2009

Guest Blogger GottaLaff: 'Teen idles"

Here's another installment from Guest blogger, GottaLaff. Today, Laffy writes about the affect our reliance on technology, coupled with the fact that "tabloid infotainment" now replaces real news, has truly harmed this country's children.

This has, according to Lafffy, culminated in a "steady decline in student dedication, interest, ability to concentrate, process, communicate, and recognize emotion in oneself and others."

Teen idles

(originally posted at the The Political Carnival on December 3, 2009)

As some of you know, I am what they call an "artist in residence" at a performing arts high school. I don't have a credential, so I teach classes along with a credentialed teacher. I've done this for well over a decade and in the past few years, I have been alarmed at the steady decline in student dedication, interest, ability to concentrate, process, communicate, and recognize emotion in oneself and others. I'm not alone, every teacher I've spoken to has noticed the same thing.

We can attribute some of this to the reliance on technology (computers, cell phones, iPods, etc.), and some of it to upbringing, and of course, other contributing factors. My students used to be motivated and very aware of the world around them, but now, as sweet and bright as they are, they've become more impatient, have minuscule attention spans, and know very little about current events, nor do they care.

In short, they are uninformed and unconcerned about it. Not that teenagers are known for their avid interest in the news, far from it. But in the mid- to late '90s, when I first got involved with directing and teaching kids (of all ages), there was a noticeable appetite for knowledge and pride in achievement. Much of that is lacking now. They are not as inquisitive nor do they like to expend much energy problem solving, reading, critical thinking, or having meaningful conversations.

Again, this is not out of context, I have a point of reference: Then and now.

I've tried to encourage my kiddles to at least take a peek at the headlines for a minute or two each day, or watch the top-of-the-hour news, or glance at a newspaper to learn about something other than pop culture. I've done this by allowing them to share one current event for extra credit during oral quizzes I give them (on, of all things, comedians). If they can't answer a question on, say, Bob Hope, but they can talk about a major news event (national or international, not local), then they get credit.

The results have been mixed. Yesterday's quiz produced 99% Tiger Woods/White House party crasher reports, an abundance of "I got nothin's", and a few other responses that I will share in a minute.

Today's class was a vast improvement, but they couldn't remember where the 30,000 troops were headed (many said "Iraq"), or that there were troops being deployed at all, and none thought to bring up health care issues, including flu shots. Most came up with headlines about shootings, including Ft. Hood, or science-related headlines (ice on the moon [not bad], "elevator to outer space").

Note: I remind them regularly to check out basic bare bones news items. I warned them that not all news is accurate, and warned them to question the (un)reliablity of "sources" and "breaking news".

I've explained that other than the fundamental importance of learning/knowledge, it is essential that they understand their world so that they will become informed voters who shape their democracy; that they are our future, and that educating themselves pays off in various ways, such as everyday conversation, and even provides them with a vast reservoir to draw from while performing improvisational comedy (which I also teach them) so they can evoke laughs (read: rewards).

Here are examples of what many students considered to be newsworthy:

As I mentioned, Tiger Woods (they knew every single detail) and the White House party crashers (the only tidbit they missed was what Michaele Salahi wore) were repeated to me over and over again. And again.

I gave them hints, such as "This topic affects every single one of you, your families, and has been on the news daily since before summer. During the summer there was a lot of craziness and fighting over it, and it continues to make big news today and will until at least the New Year." One hand went up: "Health care?" she asked timidly. Bingo.

I prodded one boy, "Give me a major news story about Obama." He said, "He's president?"

Several kids thought that the ads at the bottom of e-mails and MySpace were news items. This included an ad encouraging moms to go back to school. They interpreted that to be that "President Obama was forcing parents to get educated."

Some picked up fragments from CNN broadcasts as they walked from one room to another and passed the Tee Vee Machine on the way to the kitchen. I congratulated them on getting at least a whiff of news and asked if they could inhale more deeply next time.

Many translated bits and pieces of reporting they got from eavesdropping on their parents. Most of those were pretty abysmal, but one included a halfway decent interpretation of New York's recent rejection of same-sex marriage. Sigh of relief.

The majority of kids were surprised that entertainment news wasn't what I was looking for. I don't blame them, but I've been pretty explicit about my expectations over the past few months.

Conclusion:

Tabloid infotainment has replaced serious news, as I've mentioned in post after TPC post. As a result, the osmotic nature of how teens learn about their own world has been reduced to sound bites from the most inane, splashy, celebrity-driven stories.

Despite the fact that for most teens, the Washington Post isn't a priority (understandably), it would be reassuring to know that the few seconds of information that makes its way into their consciousness was, in fact, fact. And usable. And relevant to their lives and futures.

I'll continue to do my part to boost their awareness and pique their interest by injecting fun and humor into even the most serious (read: boring) and topical subject matter. The good news? I did notice a spark or two, and three students asked me for the web address of The Political Carnival as a way to stay abreast of what's happening. And that's a start.

Please note: There is so much more to this topic, and I'm well aware that I generalized somewhat. In the interest of not making this post even longer than it is, I limited my observations to what struck me the most, emotionally. Feel free to add your own experiences and conclusions in Comments.
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