Blog Post

Why We Should/Not Worship Youth and Other Disturbing Back-to-School Thoughts

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.

 

Here's why:

(1) Have some perspective, adults.  PleaseTry, 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."

For more information, visit www.nowyouseeit.net or order on Amazon.com by clicking on the book below.

  [NYSI cover]

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18 comments

In our desire for extreme we make so many missteps! The Tao-te-ching says "Neither this nor that". What does this mean? Well, the whole point is to not define it because "it", whatever "it" is, is always a moving target. To worship or condemn are both extremes which never could be useful for so many reasons, and labeling a group (class?) of people like college age people may be worthwhile for People magazine but it isn't useful for getting at any truths.

Good for you for standing behind your students. That's what good mentors and teachers are meant to do. 

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While some, most surely, do respond to the dismal economy and projected changes - particularly by those B-School "role models" who screwed it up in the first place - many or most are reasonably optimistic, entrepreneurial, and remarkably innocent regarding jobs, career, and the corporate state. Most are politically more naive than those in the '50's, and are - or may become, given the ripples of the Arab Spring - ripe for rancor when they really interact with the rapacity of the generation ahead of them. Most of the ones I know - and I live in a student town and work equally with college and high school students - have more intellectual independence, cultural resonance, and social maturity than any previous generation - and I'm 67, so there've been several. In high school lunch rooms kids with serious communications disorders lead or follow kids with multiple languages and awesomely diverse incomes and cultural differences. In tutoring sessions transgender tutors work with immigrant gang bangers to mutual interest, benefit, and improvement. In documenting "the best things I've done" their video - or text, graphic, sound, or mix - reflects a spectrum embracing service, arts, sports, and academe. They comfortably check facts with their cell phone while arguing cases in class, and gleefully find new data while citing their best arguments. It is very, very different from former generations, much, much more dynamic and adaptable, creative, synergistic, and compassionate. Low on commitment or attention span, it is very long on reflection, on curiosity, and on collaboration. Most of our battles of the 60's - on race, war, and inclusion - have had huge impact, leaving much to do but on a much higher ground on which to do it. While they may not know or write like Steinbeck and Hemingway, they are easily drawn into explorations of which both would be proud and charmed. They are also the least sentimental group I've ever seen, preferring to argue on fact, generate opinion on collaboration, and mobilize on passion. I've met very, very few Tea Party-like teens, and most seem wary of quick and dumb solutions, suspicious of politics and politicians of all kind, and yet ready to solve problems from which most of us would flee. They're intrepid and charming, and, more than any of their predecessors, the hope of their own future; flawed though they may be, they're eager to explore those flaws for potential solutions to problems that escaped us - and the generations before.

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Joe, your paragraph shows you spend a lot of time around young ones and you see their strengths. I would question the idea that one can be truly reflective and have a short attention span at the same time. The high school kids I tutor have a hard time falling into a truly reflective mode, are quick to say "I don't know" and look up an answer in some Spark Notes pages instead of pondering a piece of literature for themselves. They are quick to use translators instead of working on their foreign language skills. And, in some cases, they seem oddly blank from an emotional perspective. As far as not writing like Hemingway, I would say that's an understatement. My sister, who is a prof at Wesleyan, grieves the lack of basic writing skills (spelling, essay structure, sentence structure, etc.). 

The reason I bring this up while agreeing with most of what you write is that I think there is, indeed, a bit of a problem. For one, gleefully pulling facts out of a smart phone makes one dependent on suspect, second hands facts. The "fact" pool they are drawing from is, I think, more corrupt than reference books in the library used to be to some regard, though of course the reference section also suffered from its lack of coverage of woman's, gay and non-white culture history and ideas.

The attack on education, teachers and students that has been sustained over the past many years is responsible in large part for this. The diminished emphasis on art, dance, music and in general expressive arts in favor of making kids pass tests or "preparing them for the job market" is also responsible. Intense amounts of passive hours in front of televisions and computer screens has taught the habit of passivity to this generationm, and hurt it's ability to communicate. Teachers and parents are responsible for this: A student of mine at the George School came to me for Spanish tutoring because the teacher's idea of a Spanish class was leaving them in the language lab and telling them to do Lesson 6. Huh? Since when was learning language no longer a face to face proposition?

Not technology ourself, but our own unwillingness to use it well with young people and our failure to defend the integrity of the educational system remains, in my view, a problem to be considered.

 

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First, I concur that they don't think first of writing as communication - beleaguered by teachers, they think of it as assignment. When you do convert it into "notes on what you're doing" or "help for others doing what you're doing" or a lot of "why" questions, you often get much, much sharper and clearer text. Just because they use WTF doesn't mean that they can't spell it out, particularly with the average spell check (which often eludes the intellectuals on lists and newsgroups, incidentally). A similar thing happens when they use google, since, although the facts they check usually pop up with WikiPedia first (which, in my experience as a former editor in social science encyclopedias - way before these kids were born - is a LOT better than most of the professional sources). Probably most significant is that they realize that different kids asking the same question of google will get different answers, and thereby jeopardize whatever residual credibility multiple choice tests once had.

Regarding their readiness to reflect, however, I can't disagree more with your experience. My reason is, however, probably very stilted. I just finished two cycles of kid e-portfolio building, using the "soft skills" of Arnold Packer's SCANS Report and Verified Resume (http://learningmatters.tv/blog/press-releases/press-release-listen-up-awarded-400000-grant-from-wk-kellogg-foundation/3855/) as rubrics against which the kids showed how well they did and understood things like "creativity," "responsibility," "teamwork," "inquiry," "negotiation," etc. The teachers - and I for that matter - initially expected to see lots of papers or school work. Nope. There was some, most certainly, since academe is a good place to do stuff that documents some of those skills. But, much more interest, most of the examples came from home, from part-time jobs, from volunteer or recreation events. Several times when seeing these portfolios the first time, teachers would exclaim to the effect, "he really understood that idea, and actually used it someplace!" or "her choreography shows she really saw the movie she was talking about last month!" The key is not to ask for reflections abstractly, but concretely, and to ask them to link their examples with the ideas they think those examples reflect. You not only get startlingly good writing (https://sites.google.com/site/funesdouglas/?pli=1) but we, at least, got remarkably fresh ideas (https://sites.google.com/site/shseportfolio/home), particularly, if you can access Vimeo, "Vanessa's Take."

What really astounded me - as a sometimes cynical teacher of college and high school - was the degree of irony and maturity they brought to those portfolios. They had a very good time, both individually, as a group of students, and, somewhat surprisingly, as a group of faculty and students working together in a mutual project of discovery. Everything Montessori and Dewey and others promised just...happened. Their writing was sharp, since they were writing to people they like not just those who ordered them about; their graphics were engaging and funny and mature; and their joy in producing a creative solution to all the problems raised in this blog - from boredom to test anxiety - was overwhelming. And it was simple. And it was cheap (used largely Google - or Posterous or Wiki - not one of those proprietary models). As several said by the end of their second cycle (kids in cycle 1 worked with kids in cycle 2), "If I'd been doing this from freshman year those colleges would be seeking me out, not the other way around." In fact, it was so successful that, after one semester, the school adopted the practice for all Freshmen, and School Committee members promoted it to the 7th and 8th grade parents with lingering fears about "public education."

So it really is possible to do dramatic things, cheap, fast, and really pretty easy.

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@Joe Beckmann, I was unable to access some of those links, but have requested permission for access. I really would like to see the work to which you refer because I want to understand this whole thing a bit better.

Disclaimer: You teach high school so you see more youngsters than I do,and so your sample is larger. Primarily, I teach language to adults. I also teach 9th grade to college age if the student seems motivated and interested in my topics (Writing and Spanish). Sometimes I will teach even a disinterested youth out of compassion (for him or his parents) because I can see s/he is in a real pickle in school and I see how I can quickly help. But that's it. In general, as I always say, I prefer my students to come of their own free will.

Comparative samples aside, though, here's what I am gathering so far from you: According to you, youth write better when the topic is not called "Writing", something which they relate to a negative experience/emotion. They write better if the assignment is called something else such as "help another person learn what you learned", or some other such framing. But when asked to write an essay about whether The Lord of the Flies is an allegory or not, they feel negative and bummed and therefore cannot write. Hmmm. Having trouble buying that. I mean, sure Mom could frame "go clean your room" as "let's figure out how to improve the ecology of your room" (I am not trying to belittle here), but why should she? She knows best. And that's something kid should learn from the git-go.

I also am having trouble with the idea that teachers as a rule can be framed as "people who just order them (the students) about". Are they that emotionally affected by schoolwork? What you seem to be suggesting is that the actual quality of student work depends on whether the student likes the person who asked them to do it, or feels kindly towards the audience at which they direct their writing. Telling someone what to do is not arbitrary ordering about and if a student is confused about that, he needs to rethink. Teachers and mentors are there because they know more than the student or mentee and it's good for students to understand that, I think. Throughout life there are people who know more than one, and it's good to develop a real liking for such people because they're the ones who teach you the most. 

Joe, I hear you (I think), enjoy reading what you write, and I am considering the information you offer. At the same time, I am finding some of what you propose hard to integrate into my thinking. Skills, after all, are skills aren't they? One can either form sentences well or not, one either has a broad vocabulary or doesn't, is familiar with critical terminology or is not, can contruct a convincing argument or cannot. It begs (my) disbelief that a student would forget such skills simply because of feeling cranky about an assignment or a teacher. Yes of course we all do better work when we are interested in what we are doing. But to me part of teaching is showing students why studies in which they may lack interest are not only interesting but are also darned important.

Or am I missing your point? I may be.

As a side note, this portfolio thing kind of bugs me. It feels to me like a kiddie resumé and I therefore associate it with a bug I currently have up my you-know-what about all education turning into some sort of civilian job training program. That's not what a liberal education is all about (again, to me). I was lucky enough to be a freshman at Yale when Bart Giamatti welcomed us with this great speech The Earthly Use of a Liberal Education. I loved Bart's take on life and education, and I have lived its truth in my own life. It  bothers me that now the time given young people to pursue a truly liberal education has been rolled back to before the 7th grade, practically speaking, by which time they are already being subjected to PSATs and creating CVs and being told that (I've seen it on the math teacher's wall) how the topics they study will help them get J-O-B-S. 

I love the enthusiasm that pervades your comments, and I am sure you're a teacher everyone fights to get! I am just not quite convinced by your argument. Let me know if I got it all wrong.

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In my experience teaching writing to high schoolers, college kids, and Vietnam vets over the last couple decades, I've seen a change in the necessary "skills" to survive--and more importantly, to change--the world beyond the classroom. This change has nothing to do with the boondoggle of vocational or test-oriented education, but with the change from one-to-many media (a term paper) to many-to-many media (this blog).

Should we be surprised that this fact upsets teachers who view education as imparting skills from master to apprentice rather than as a collaboration, a "co-authored book"? No. Historian Elizabeth Eisenstein describes a parallel intergenerational conflict wrought by Gutenberg in the 15th century, when the older hierarchs lamented the youth's loss of "skills" (penmanship) wrought by a new medium (the printing press), and made worse by the youth's obsession with fashionable devices that made the new medium more scrutable to them (eyeglasses).

Bravo, Cathy, for standing up to those who try to elevate their own position by putting others down.

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I love this comment---the Gutenberg made me laugh out loud.  Ah, yes, we miss the Scriptorium!  The younger generation is going to the dogs . . . the scribe replaced by the crass printer!    Good luck with all you do.  Thanks for taking the time to write.

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@Jon Ippolito, I am working with the thoughts you expressed above. I get what you are saying about changes in what skills are needed to get along in the world. Makes perfect sense.

But, with permission, I take a little issue with your metaphor: Good, even great, penmanship didn't stop being important after Gutenberg invented movable type in the 15th century. Neither did the art of writing characters disappear  after Bi Sheng invented moveable type in China in the 11th century. The art of handwriting is indeed not ephemeral and has not been replaced by technology, leastways not when I'm taking notes in a class or sending a thank you to my neighbor for last night's party. It's important to be exigent and not facile when drawing such parallels, I think. 

Youth are growing up now as beneficiaries of the social revolutions (Women's Suffrage, Civil Rights Movement, Gay Pride etc) and so are sprouting up (perhaps, probably?) more sensitive, more fair, and more broadly knowledgeable than the youth that went before them (us). But they still need mentors, I think, which for me is defined as someone both wiser and more knowledgeable than the mentee who is willing to take on the responsibility of a student. I am curious what you think the role of the mentor is now in the modern world? Is it so different from what I describe?

 

 

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. . . great point, Dorothy, and it complicates and enhances the discussion.  There was FEAR that such would disappear just as there is again now.   Just a few weeks ago someone said cursive was disappearing and its disappearance would destroy brain cells.   Well, it is not disappearing and, if it did, there are so many non-cursive writing systems used by very smart people (most of them Asian).  It's a ridiculous argument.  It's what John Seely Brown calls "endism," where you fear everything will end from a new technology.  I read that Jon was noting the "Fear" of the loss, not the actual loss.  John Hancock lived long after Gutenberg!   The fear remains. 

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Kind thanks, Cathy, for the term "Endism". I love it and will spread it around!

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I take Cathy's point and appreciate her generous spirit. That said, I personally take a harder line: persistence does not guarantee relevance.

Not to be snarky, but how many people do you know who still hand-write thankyou notes? I can't think of any of my-50 year-old peers who do. And my 20-year-old students would no sooner hand-write a thankyou for last night's party then they would file their tax return as an illuminated manuscript. Print is not dead, but it's suffering, as Borders' bankruptcy confirms.

I was sorry to see Borders go, but I have no such nostalgia for the fetishization of penmanship, which I view as having little inherent value except as a marker of class.

On the other hand, I agree with Dorothy that mentors still have value in a networked world, for the same reason that elders do in a tribe. This is one role that doesn't depend on social hierarchies or one-to-many technologies like print.

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I appreciate the youth, but 'worship' is a strong word, I would rather encourage and support the youth rather than worship them. I understand the irony of it, and I hate to sound like an old geezer, but I think the 80's youth generation was much more praise-worthy than the current one.

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I believe the youth deserve as much respect as their elders.

(This is not the cult of youth promoted by advertising, which has nothing to do with flesh-and-blood kids.)

Were you serious about the 80s generation? I was one of those self-centered brats; an alarming percentage of my classmates turned out to be hedge fund managers. The #occupywallstreet crowd deserves a lot more credit than my cohorts.

Maybe you hung with a hipper crowd in the 80s...?

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It seems to me, at 68, that there have been waves of generations. One of my fondest memories of going to Columbia was a few years later, sitting with the former Dean David Truman in his new office as President of Mount Holyoke when he sat back and observed that I'd been a Senior when Mark Rudd was a Freshman at Columbia (from which he'd been blown out by the 1968 demonstrations). That was a very different time from the Wall Streeters of today, but those were very different - but oddly analogous - situations. Working with kids today does echo the kind of, not despair, but, certainly dismay at what they face. Ours was war and racism, essentially echoing the previous generation's Great War but in more intimate, personal, and political terms. Theirs echos Bush's and Clinton's, Bush's and, aha!, Reagan's libertarianism and increasing governmental naivete as to the role of government in contributing to and preventing financial disasters. It is not a matter of partisanship to blame both goodguys and badguys for squandering their future, as our predecessors squandered ours. But it is critical to help them see how we recaptured it, and how well things worked for a while (even under some of those guys). It is vital to recognize that self-centered solutions are pretty short term, and the brilliance with which kids transcend race, language, culture, immigration, class, and age is genuinely admirable and, in effect, a generational shift at least as sharp as the Columbia demonstrations for Harlem and against the draft. Like we, they really don't appreciate bullying and being pushed around. They're just discovering the ineptitude of their parents' and grandparents' generations, their credos of "greed is good" and naive financial presumption that more is better. In their terms - and ours - "Enough is enough." While I don't worship them, I certainly appreciate the kids who teach me daily that it's fair to ask for help, really great to give it, and really bad to push them away.

If we've learned anything in the last half-century it ought to be that.

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Thanks for that perspective, Joe. One way to think about educating young people is to imagine who they will need to be if and when they are in charge some day. This was the approach Wabanaki elders recommended when my partner asked them what we should be teaching our kids. Their answer was "eldership training."

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@John Ippolito: You wrote above "Not to be snarky, but how many people do you know who still hand-write thankyou notes? I can't think of any of my-50 year-old peers who do. And my 20-year-old students would no sooner hand-write a thankyou for last night's party then they would file their tax return as an illuminated manuscript."

The answer to your (successfully snarky) comment is, I know plenty of people who hand-write thank you notes and other kinds of notes, too. I am your age. I handwrite thank you notes. I also handwrite Christmas cards, and the occasional letter when I am feeling like being closer or miss someone very much. I ALWAYS handwrite an apology, if it is not said in person. I handwrite my journal, and on a daily basis I leave handwritten notes for my husband.  Furthermore, I have peers and students (decades younger than I am) who do the same, because they were brought up to understand the niceties of social contact.

We like to make excuses for not doing things that we don't do well or don't want to do, n'est pas John? We also have different values in different parts of the country and in different social groups. The way I was brought up (by middle class people from Idaho and Wilmington Delaware), it is important to have good notepaper and envelopes handy, and to take the time, the valuable time, to write the  note, to address it, to stamp it, to mail it: For if time has value, and it does, then it follows that a hand-written note is a much more valuable and sincere gesture than a 1 minute email or SMS. It is an artifact, a gift, something that when well done brings to the recipient not just words but also a texture, a smell, perhaps an image. A well-written note or card involved the recipient with its artfulness; to this day I keep examples of the writing of people dear to me, some of them long gone, so that I can handle those pages now and then and retain a feeling of the people who sent them to me.

I now live in North Carolina, John, and one of the reasons my husband and I moved here is that we feel at home among these people who place a high value on hospitality, manners, respectful social address and taking time to do  things right. When we moved here, we received nearly a dozen welcome gestures from our neighbors, including muffins, bread, fruit, fresh vegetables from the garden...and each gift came with (wait for it)....a lovely handwritten note. Just beause we CAN do things another way, does not mean that it's always the best choice. Speed and efficiency are not the highest values.

Your idea that email means nice penmanship is outdated puts you, in my mind, in the category of people who believed horses would disappear from the earth because of the invention of the motorized car. That was an extreme position then that was not borne out in the real world, and so is yours.

For an interesting associated article, check out this article by Gina Barreca in The Chronicles.

 

 

 

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Dorothy, it sounds like I upset you by implying that your preferred mode of communication, and by extension your social class, is marginal or obsolete. I guess I owe you an apology!

You make an eloquent case for why you spend time creating, sending, and handwritten letters. They are clearly important to you and your friends. I'm glad they help you feel more connected to each other than being poked on Facebook.

I do admit to being a little concerned that in retaliation you may have pigeonholed me incorrectly, as some kind of urban hipster with ADD and bad handwriting.

It's true that I prefer respect to manners, as I view the former as deep and democratic and the latter as superficial and elitist. But that preference is shared by a lot of folks in the *rural* environment where I have lived the last decade.

This spring I am moving into an ecovillage that I helped found with 20 other families. Some of us still treasure snailmail. But for remote communication with each other we prefer email, Basecamp, Twitter, and the like.

It's not like we are transplants from Silicon Valley with Blackberries on our hip. We actually have horses, and we share fresh vegetables from the garden. We give each other gifts, though I've never received a note with one. (Personally, writing a note to go with a gift these days would feel a bit self-congratulatory to me.)

Taking advantage of more efficient means of communication leaves us more time for face-to-face conversation. And an ecovillage needs a lot of face time to make decisions by consensus.

More important than the efficiency of our digital tools, however, is their ability to foster many-to-many communication--another habit essential to keeping everyone engaged in a democratic community. My father left me boxes of handwritten correspondence, and I'm struggling to decide whether I should burden my children with mine. Some of it is interesting, but it feels dead to me, like a butterfly pinned to the wall. Even when the correspondents are still alive, no one else can join in the conversation. None of these letters is doing social work in the real world.

By participating in this blog, we have dared to share a glimpse of the culture that matters to us--muffins, horses, notepaper, vegetables--with others who can compare their experiences with ours and build on what has been said here. I wouldn't trade that for all the pretty handwriting in the world.

Cheers from us Mainers to you Tar Heels.

jon

 

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Dear John,

Sounds like the next time you come to Durham we should sit down and share a meal and a chat! Certainly you don't owe me or anyone else an apology for expressing your point of view, and I don't take offense to what people think either of me or the things I love.

So, no, I was not offended, only passionate. And my response to you was not framed as "retaliation" as you wrote, but as part of an ongoing conversation. Nor did I imagine who you were at all and, while I congratulate you for following your life path with your new Eco-Community, my response had nothing to do with who I thought you were -- or were not. It was quite simply a detailed response to your statement that people don't need to have good handwriting skills any more. I feel passionately about it. Passion is good, is it not? 

John, the dualities in which you seem to be thinking (ecofriendly guy vs. Silicon Valley Blackberry guy, or manners vs. respect, muffins and horses vs. pretty handwriting) are not ones I really can get behind. Living shows me that all categories slosh into each other, and to know reality one best be prepared to see how messy and un-dualistic life really is. I expect you're quite a complex person, as am I, undescribable by a simple label.

I wonder why you think that it would it seem self congratulatory to write a note to accompany a gift? Unless you're a secret santa, dedications are nice. I like them.

It is odd to me also that you divorce respect from manners. You write that you prefer "... respect to manners, as (you) view the former as deep and democratic and the latter as superficial and elitist." What has respect got to do with a political system? And why do you divorce manners from respect? Manners, good manners, are based on respect for others' feelings and comfort: They are customs that we follow to make others feel relaxed and at ease in our presence. For example, refraining from picking your nose in my presence would be both respectful and good manners, wouldn't you say?

Do contact me via this blog if you ever come to Durham. I am sure it would be charming to meet you.

With my sincere best regards,

Dorothy

 

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