Ask your teenager to recite the months of the year. We always assume our children learn the order of months right along with the alphabet, numbers, and other conventions. But an observant veteran Kansas teacher reports that some of his high school students no longer know that February comes after January or August after July.
If that sounds strange, it is because you and I still flip through a paper calendar.
Many youngsters today get their time, day, month and year from their cell phones. With instant access to a digital “now,“ they never see the layout of a whole year or a whole month. As a result, some of today’s students assume every month has 30 days (a 31st day appears so rarely). Without a calendar “time map,” they do not notice February is missing 29 and 30.
Before you start bemoaning some youngster’s loss of a sense of time, consider the car GPS. They supposedly replace a road map. Remember when car dials that registered oil level were replaced by warning lights that only came on when the it dropped to a danger level—my dad called them “idiot lights.” GPS is an “idiot map” that never provides us the knowledge we get from genuine maps. We mindlessly “turn left” and “turn right” to get to our destination. But we never know where we are. If we have to return on our own, or describe where we are in an emergency, or direct someone else to this location, we cannot.
We have abandoned learning for electronic convenience for several decades.
Need a square root; hit that key on a calculator.
Need a logarithm; hit the “log” key.
If we originally learned to calculate the square root, we still have a concept of “square root” from that early hand calculation even if we no longer remember the steps.
But logarithms are a problem. What were they anyway? If you played with a slide rule, you actually had your hands on logarithmic scales: equal distances marked off for zero to one, one to ten, and ten to 100. By sliding these scales back and forth you could multiply by adding and divide by subtracting. Even when the slide rule faded into memory, the “log” concept remained as you hit the calculator key.
But take away that experience of calculating square root by hand or playing with a slide rule and the square root and log keys on the calculator are just some form of magic. Just like relying on the GPS to get us somewhere or the cell phone to give us the time, relying on the calculator has made us dumb.
And don’t forget the clock. Is yours still an “old” analog clock with hour and minute hands that sweep out a circle? In the northern hemisphere, water goes down a drain and hurricanes and tornadoes rotate “counterclockwise.” But in a world with only digital clock numbers, the words “clockwise” would no longer have any meaning. Teachers would be unable to describe rotary motion.
Those expensive white “smartboards” that are showing up in classrooms as a badge of techno-superiority are just as guilty. At one push of a button, it will generate random numbers. No need for the rich experience of students putting their names in a hat and drawing out one name by random. All the questions that students would naturally pose about randomness never occur.
Hitting electronic keys is convenient. It is accurate. But in many cases, it replaces the experiences that make the world meaningful for our students.
Don’t expect new research concepts.
Bye bye Nobel Prizes.
Thanks to mis-use of electronics, some of our children won’t even know the order of the months in the year.
Because it is new technology, we mistakenly think it must be a better way to learn. It is the new dumb, and we are proud of it.