A recent reviewer of Now You See It accused me of being a "youth worshipper." Ooooooh. That's bad. I mean, if you are a college professor worth your credentials, you are supposed to be spending your days lamenting the terrible writing, thinking, reading, learning, ambitions, progress, and even morals of students today. Right? Isn't that what we should be doing if we are serious about education?
Well, I spent about fifteen minutes wondering where in the world this reviewer came up with that idea, then another fifteen thinking, well, if the opposite is a youth-hater, then maybe she's right: on that spectrum, I certainly fall nearer to the worshipper than the damner scale of the spectrum. And I think you should too.
(1) Have some perspective, adults. Please. Try, if you can, to think about what it must feel like to be 18 in 2011. Your entire adolescence, you've heard that your generation is the first in fifty years or maybe even a hundred that will have lower earning power than your parents had. If that is true, it sure isn't the fault of 18 year olds. It is their elders who have bequeathed them a lousy financial prospect. About 44% of American adults are sure youth will have a less satisfactory qualify of life in the future than they had, a record low. http://www.gallup.com/poll/147350/optimism-future-youth-reaches-time-low... Congress dithers over ideology (fiddling with entitlement programs instead of raising taxes or cutting military spending) as our kids' future burns.
(2) From 1987 to 2007, the median family income rose 147% but the average college costs rose 439%. Well, Professor Davidson, are you going to blame that on 18 year olds too? Campuses have become medieval fort cities, larger and larger, employing often more people than just about any other institution in their state or region. Is that growth on the back of 18 year olds?
(3) 67% of students leave college in debt. Yet how much of an actual college education prepares students for their future? How much has a college education changed in the 18 years of their lives when just about everything else has changed?
(4) Many important scientists feel that human-generated global warming will destroy the planet and human life. Others disagree. While they argue who is right, the ice caps are melting and biodiversity is shrinking.
(5) Ethnographic studies show this is the generation since WWII with the least violence (towards others and themselves), the lowest drug use, the most social consciousness, the best global awareness, and the least sexist and racist attitudes. Hmmmmm.
(6) The good folks at Scholastic (not exactly gooey-eyed technophiles) say that teens today read more books in a given year than their parents do----and read more books than their parents did when their parents were their age. They also borrow more books from libraries and have more library memberships than previous generations.
(7) Yet . . . a majority of pundits writing today about "digital natives" ( a term I really do not like) conclude (surely they've seen the statistics and studies enumerated above) that today's youth are shallow, distracted, lonely, superficial, socially isolated, and incapable of sustained attention.
Apparently, if one does not agree with these pundits, then one is a "youth worshipper." Okay, let me go back over this list again, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7: I'm doing the math. What does that add up to exactly?
If respecting a generation that has been given a lousy situation and is still doing pretty well constitutes "youth worship," then, guess what? I stand accused.
NOW YOU SEE IT
Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, and author of The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and the forthcoming Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (publication date, Viking Press, August 18, 2011). below.
A starred review in the May 30 Publisher's Weekly notes: "Davidson has produced an exceptional and critically important book, one that is all-but-impossible to put down and likely to shape discussions for years to come." PW named it one of the "top 10 science books" of the Fall 2011 season.
In the August 9 New York Times, columnist Virginia Heffernan calls the book "galvanic. . . One of the nation’s great digital minds, she has written an immensely enjoyable omni-manifesto that’s officially about the brain science of attention. But the book also challenges nearly every assumption about American education. . . . As scholarly as “Now You See It” is — as rooted in field experience, as well as rigorous history, philosophy and science — this book about education happens to double as an optimistic, even thrilling, summer read. It supplies reasons for hope about the future. Take it to the beach. That much hope, plus that much scholarship, amounts to a distinctly unguilty pleasure."