REVIEW: “Endangered Minds”

Children Need Boredom

In the days before telev518RCp0rs0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ision, video games, and standardized testing, children were “bored”. Schools and media are always trying new ways to keep kids “engaged”.

Each new way eventually fails, like new fads; technology “one-ups” itself and creates a higher standard for instant gratification from the young learner. It is often forgotten, though, that children born in an era before the pervasiveness of internet and video games read more, played more, socialized more, appreciated more and actually really learned more.

In attempting to keep children happy and busy, parents and educators may forget development of the imagination and free curiosity which naturally comes with it is enabled by unstructured time away from the quick fix and “carrot” used to “motivate” children. “Free” time allows the mind to think, analyze and contemplate. Boredom itself, teaches.

Who children become is a result of what they learn and the behaviors they see by the people closest to them. A parent that makes smart decisions based upon sound logic provide a good model for the developing child. Justification using specific examples and reasoning gives structure, helping build cognitive ability, providing a reliable “life-solving” methodology to follow. The study of critical reasoning provides the platform in which to teach it. Understanding the “who”, “what”, ”when”, ”where”, “why’s”, and “how’s” of something, combining variables helps to make a claim and draw a conclusion. The context determines the logic used to present arguments; relating all concepts and providing a recognizable pattern. Willingham, in his essay Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard To Teach?, posits that “scientific thinking must be taught hand in hand with scientific content.”, and that upon analysis of teaching methods, believes “that effective approaches were those that focused on building complex, integrated knowledge bases as part of problem solving,” whereas,  “Ineffective approaches focused exclusively on the strategies be used in problem solving while ignoring the knowledge necessary for the solution.” (Willingham, 26)

People have come to have this habit of imagining the brain as a computer. It is assumed it can be programmed much like its technological counterpart. Modern learning methods capitalize on this idea, and have presented new ways to “program” the child using technology. But in all this, educators lose sight of the purpose of education. There is a difference between teaching someone and training someone. Greek philosopher Socrates believed in the concept that “the role of a teacher was draw out of a pupil the awareness, insight, and knowledge that would dispel ignorance and lead to clarity of thought”. In their book, The Child and The Machine, Armstrong and Casement expound on that philosophy adding “ entails the development of a certain frame of mind, one that includes the idea of meditative thinking based upon self-knowledge and careful observation of the world… It is not simply a matter of programming a machine, but teaching a child how to think.” (Armstrong/Casement, 37-38)

With all the promise of electronic educational material, it should be that children “these days” are smarter. While IQ scores remain comparable to previous times, teacher, Jane M. Healy, author of Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It, questions what kind of knowledge is really shown through that test, finding students that although “likable, fun to be with, intuitive and often amazingly self-aware” seemed “nonetheless, harder  to teach and less attuned to verbal material”, struggling with written assignments and admittedly “not reading much –  sometimes even the required homework.” Interviewing her colleagues she comes across comments such as:

“..every year I seem to “water down” the material even more.”

“Lectures can’t exceed fifteen minutes. I use more audiovisuals.”

“I used to be able to teach Scarlet Letter  to my juniors; now that         amount of reading is a real chore for them and they have more trouble following the plot.”

“I’ve modified my teaching methods because of their lack of attention span and their impatience.”

“Kids’ abilities are certainly different – I use with gifted sixth graders a lot of what I did with average fifth graders in ’65-’66.  They complain of the workload.”(Healy, 2)

She finds these modifications in the teaching process as connective of an underlying issue apparent in the interview that states “some of my seniors will graduate from high school reading on a lower level than the students who graduated from junior high in 1970.” Another teacher finds with a book like Tale Of Two Cities, once used in some eighth grade classes is lost in  its meaning among current high schoolers. “The syntax is just like a foreign language to them.” While documenting her colleague’s frustrations in teaching this generation of students, she questions the modern, fast paced learning procedures, lamenting “To read well, minds must be trained to use language, to reflect, and to persist in solving problems. Students may learn to sound out the words, but unless they possess the internal sense of responsibility for extracting the meaning, they are engaging in a hollow and unsatisfying exercise. With major efforts, we have succeeded in teaching students in early grades to “read the words.” Test scores jump off a cliff, however, when students must begin to plug the words into language meaning and grapple with the more advanced grammar, vocabulary, and the sustained intellectual demands of a real text.”  New learning software has taken the educational process out of the hands of teachers and parents, and placed it onto computer and television screens interrupting traditional methods of instruction that have been counted upon for decades. (Healy, 11)

As an externality of an increased standard of living, children spend fewer hours with the family.  The television, once a shared activity centered upon the household set in the living room, has become a solo act, relegated to the bedroom.  More fortunate children, when the thrill of television programming has been quelled, now have personal computers, and gaming systems at their immediate disposal, without having the need to change rooms.  Cellular phones and this new “age of the text message” keep people; especially children, more adept at assimilating the changing winds of technology, “connected”, more so than at any time in the history of human civilization.  Before the I-Pod and wireless connectivity, man, woman, and child were resigned to being within earshot of a radio or television.  Phones were sought out, if one needed to place a call from outside of the home.  Knowledge was learned from the pages of books or from parenting and educational instruction.  This learning method forced absorption, with no flash drives to enable a bookmarked link following quick scan of a Wikipedia entry at any random Wi-Fi hotspot.  Computers were connected to walls, and its only use for the young student was as an easier alternative to the typewriter.  Before these technological innovations, many hours of the day were spent on other activities; playing, reading, studying, and even doing chores.  A walk at one point in time was only just a walk, without an accompanying soundtrack.

These new items occupy the “down time” in most peoples’ lives; an area once reserved for conscious thought and introspection, curiosity and imagination.  While they sometimes serve to benefit intellectual interests, more often than not, they commandeer this time; decreasing attention spans and swallowing one up in a consumer lifestyle that demands new and exciting toys to replace the predecessors that have fallen out of style and appeal. These, possibly, fundamental flaws in modern educational techniques have essentially been committed with the best of intentions.  “Higher standards” in American education have generated “lower expectations” from parents, teachers, and schools; no longer trusting in children to keep themselves active in thought, spoiling them with whatever they wish in an effort to satisfy them. As much as technology can teach, over use limits time honored, traditional methods of learning. Adults may forget that the best lessons ever learned are the ones they learned themselves; reading a book, walking in the park, or spending time with friends. Lessons that are never learned if just glued to a chair in front of a television or computer monitor.

Work Cited

Armstrong, Alison, and Casement, Charles.  The Child and the Machine: How Computers Put   Our Children’s Education at Risk. Robbins Lane Press, 2008

Healy, Jane M. Ph. D “Endangered Minds:  Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It” 1990. 2008.          <>

Willingham, Daniel T. “Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard To Teach? American Educator Vol. 109 # 4  March/April 2008


Professor Sibicky – Comp 101

November 24, 2008

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