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Kids These Days: Media Use and Parental Fear

24 Mar

My colleague Charlie Keil is worried that kids these days spend too much time with media of one sort or another (as detailed, e.g. in this report) – TV, computer, video games, whatever – and not enough time interacting directly with one another (in particular, not enough time engaging in music and dance). Meanwhile danah boyd has been researching teen media use and discovers that one reason they spend so much time online is that they can’t easily get together physically. Their lives are tightly scheduled and meeting places are few and far between.

So, is children’s media-use the result of adult micro-management? That is, kids aren’t over using media because they’re so seductive, but because their parents won’t let them play out-doors and play together.

Meanwhile, there’s a growing movement in favor of so-called “free-range childhood”. As far as I can tell that means growing up like I did. As long as I was home for dinner, for bed, practiced my trumpet, and got my homework done, I could roam the neighborhood as I wished. And I could take public transportation wherever I needed to go. Of course, this was calibrated to my age. I had more freedom at ten than at five, and more at fifteen than at ten. Still, within fairly generously limits, I could wander at will.

Over the past several years I’ve been reading that this kind of childhood is disappearing in favor of one where kids are taken everywhere by their parents and are slotted into all kinds of activities where they are supervised by adults, having less time for free play among themselves.

I have no sense of how prevalent such restrictions are. Over at Free Range Kids I found this: “Today, only 13 percent of U.S. children walk to school. One study found that only 6 percent of kids age 9-13 play outside in a given week.” I haven’t tried to track down that first number, but following the link for the second didn’t get me to the source document. If true, it’s shocking.

Over at Inhabitots I find this:

Once in a while I see question like this on Facebook, “At what age is it safe to let your children play outside alone?” Without fail, many parents will answer, “After 13 years,” and “After 15 years,” and most alarmingly, “Never.” You always see a few parents who disagree, but not many. The fact that the majority of parents on Facebook think that kids require adult supervision at all times, matches up with national statistics. Surveys collected by Christie Barnes, author of The Paranoid Parents Guide, found that the biggest worry among parents is kidnapping. Another study by pediatricians at the Mayo Clinic, showed that nearly 3/4 of parents said they are afraid that their children may be abducted. In fact, parents in the Mayo Clinic study were more worried about kidnapping than car accidents, sports injuries, or drug addiction. Many other surveys show that as many as half of American parents worry about kidnapping often, which in turn prevents these moms and dads from letting their kids go outside to play.

And that takes us back to danah boyd, who is concerned that exaggerated fears of online sexual predation distorts our sense of real dangers.

So, we keep kids indoors because we fear what will happen to them outdoors and, once we’ve driven them to media, we worry about what will happen to them there.

Meanwhile another bunch of folks are concerned about not getting enough contact with nature:

Although human beings have been urbanizing, and then moving indoors, since the invention of agriculture, social and technological changes in the past three decades have accelerated that change. Among the reasons: the proliferation of electronic communications; poor urban planning and disappearing open space; increased street traffic; diminished importance of the natural world in public and private education; and parental fear magnified by news and entertainment media. An expanding body of scientific evidence suggests that nature-deficit disorder contributes to a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, conditions of obesity and overweight, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses. Research also suggests that the nature deficit weakens ecological literacy and stewardship of the natural world. These problems are linked more broadly to what health care experts call the “epidemic of inactivity,” as well as to a devaluing of independent play. Nonetheless, we believe that society’s nature-deficit disorder can be reversed.

What’s going on?

Are we ruining our children by micromanaging their lives?

20 Mar
Clemens Wergin and his family had just moved from Germany to America, where he’d taken a new job. On the family’s first day here his 8 year-old daughter slipped out to explore the neighborhood. Writing in The New York Times, he tells us that, when she’d returned, “Beaming with pride, she told us and her older sister how she had discovered the little park around the corner, and had made friends with a few local dog owners.” It seems, though, that their new American friends “are horrified by the idea that their children might roam around without adult supervision.” He goes on to point out that:
In Berlin, where we lived in the center of town, our girls would ride the Metro on their own — a no-no in Washington. Or they’d go alone to the playground, or walk a mile to a piano lesson. Here in quiet and traffic-safe suburban Washington, they don’t even find other kids on the street to play with. On Halloween, when everybody was out to trick or treat, we were surprised by how many children actually lived here whom we had never seen.
A study by the University of California, Los Angeles, has found that American kids spend 90 percent of their leisure time at home, often in front of the TV or playing video games. Even when kids are physically active, they are watched closely by adults, either in school, at home, at afternoon activities or in the car, shuttling them from place to place.
Such narrowing of the child’s world has happened across the developed world. But Germany is generally much more accepting of letting children take some risks. To this German parent, it seems that America’s middle class has taken overprotective parenting to a new level, with the government acting as a super nanny.
Just take the case of 10-year-old Rafi and 6-year-old Dvora Meitiv, siblings in Silver Spring, Md., who were picked up in December by the police because their parents had dared to allow them to walk home from the park alone. For trying to make them more independent, their parents were found guilty by the state’s Child Protective Services of “unsubstantiated child neglect.” What had been the norm a generation ago, that kids would enjoy a measure of autonomy after school, is now seen as almost a crime.
Danah boyd discusses the same phenomenon in It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (Yale UP 2014), where it’s the flip side of intense use of social media by teens.

Is that where the modern world is headed, to lives controlled by authority where action is limited to choosing which media channel to consume? Are we preparing to turn ourselves over to our computer overlords?

An Appeal to the Pope on Behalf of the Creatures in the Cosmos

10 Feb

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I’ve got another post at 3 Quarks Daily, Charlie Keil’s Simple Appeal to the Pope on Behalf of the Future. Here’s a conversation Charlie and I have been having on Facebook:

Charlie Keil: Nice nesting and contexting Bill Benzon! … I’ll spread your commentary and the proposal around as far as I can reach into social media.

Some comments:
A big YES, to all those Firsts for Francis you list: First Jesuit, First Latin American, etc.

And another big YES to making this appeal to people of all religions who will need to form an ecumencal alliance if humans are to turn away from war once and for all.

A correction: be clear about the difference between “nations” (ethnic groups, tribes, those sharing values & traditions, peoples, who have a right to self-determination) and “states” (often, but not necessarily, the war-making enemy of anarcho-pacifists like myself and/or the enemy of nations trapped within states).

Correcting myself in the light of your highlighting the original St. Francis as putting the Creation, the speciation, before us as God’s other “book” to be praised and interpreted constantly. Just as “children’s liberation” and full expression can not be accomplished without peace, neither can the diversity of species by saved, strengthened, praised and interpreted properly without ending wars, banning weapons of mass destruction, creating Peace in all meridiens.

Bill Benzon: Thanks, CK. I was aware of the “nation” issue when writing the piece. Should have used “nation state” at every point.

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Charlie Keil: I’d have to go back to each sentence to see if that would work. I think it is safest, from anthropological, self-determination of peoples, classless society, and human rights points of view to just talk about states as states, because there are so few states made up of just one nation. Even homogeneolus Japan has the Ainu up north, the Okinawans down south, and a long hidden Korean underclass or caste. Whenever you’re tempted to use the phrase ‘nation state’ think of the Kurds existing in the corners of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and looking for self-determination since before the 1920s, or think of the 200 plus peoples caught in the trap that Lady Lugard named Nigeria.

On Behalf of the Future, your phrase keeps me thinking of all the ways that a Papal Peace Initiative opens the key doors to preserving species integrity and diversity, increasing awareness of Children’s Rights (European Network of Masters in Children’s Rights), and reviving the very essence of Christianity and all the other major religions.

Bill Benzon: Ah, but Charlie, THAT’s why I use the “nation state” phrase. It’s because the USofA was conceived as a nation-state that a large and important class of its inhabitants were defined as 3/5 of a person in the founding documents. Nation-states and nationalism go hand-in-hand. And this leads to a whole conversation about how people locate themselves in the world, aka identity, and that’s larger than will fit in these little FB text blocks.

Continue reading

Extra! Extra! Japanese Government Funds Distance Education on the Rez

1 Nov

No, it hasn’t happened yet. But who knows, stranger things have happened.

By “the rez” I mean, of course, the reservation. In this case I have no particular reservation in mind but rather am thinking of all 300+ of them as a collective entity that encompasses 2.3% of the landmass of the United States. While most of them are rather small, a few are quite large, with nine larger than the state of Delaware while the lands of the Navajo Nation are roughly the size of West Virginia.

What’s interesting about these Indian reservations is that the tribes possess tribal sovereignty, which means that in some respects these reservations are foreign nations. That’s why a few tribes have been able to get rich from gambling casinos on the rez. Federal and state laws don’t apply on the reservation, and if the reservation happens to be in the middle of are populated by people with money they’d like to gamble away, when then come on down!

But I’m not interested in gambling. I’m interested in poverty. Many reservations are, in effect, third world countries within the territorial United States. Over a quarter of Native Americans live in poverty as compared to 15% nationally. Poor people generally get lousy education and that, in turn, makes it difficult for them to work their way out of poverty.

And that’s where the Japanese come in. As I indicated in my post on Takeshi Utsumi, the Japanese government funds distance education in third world nations. Why not fund distance education in these third world nations that just happen to live within the territorial boundaries of the United States of America? Continue reading

The Hunt for Genius, Part 5: Three Elite Schools

15 Oct

I grew up in western Pennsylvania in a suburb of Johnstown, a small steel-making city. My father was from Baltimore and he worked with Bethlehem Mines, the mining subsidiary of the now-defunct Bethlehem Steel Corporation. My mother was a native of Johnstown, had been there for the 1937 flood, and was a full-time housewife and mother. That was typical for the time, the 1950s and into the 60s.

Mother loved gardening and she was an excellent cook and seamstress. Father was more intellectual than most engineers. In addition to playing golf, collecting stamps, and woodworking, he liked to read, both fiction and nonfiction. Both parents played the piano a bit and enjoyed playing contract bridge.

I spent many hours happily immersed in books from my father’s library (which contained many books from his father’s library): Arthur Conan Doyle, Rafael Sabatini, Rider Haggard, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain among them. I went to school in Richland Township. The schools were above average, but not special. They did not regularly send students to elite schools.

I’d applied to three Ivies, Harvard and Yale, which turned me down, and Princeton, which wait-listed me. I’d also applied to The Johns Hopkins University, my father’s alma mater. They accepted me. That my father had gone there no doubt weighed in the decision.

A classmate of mine, quarterback of the football team, was accepted to Princeton. I believe he was the first student from the school to go to an Ivy League school. I don’t think he was very happy there.

I can’t say that I was happy at Hopkins either. But then I didn’t go there for happiness. I went there to get an education, which I did.

The Johns Hopkins University

Hopkins is probably the most distinguished of the elite schools I’ve been associated with. I did my undergraduate work there between 1965 and ’69 and then completed a Master’s degree in Humanities between 1969 and ’72 while at the same time working in the Chaplain’s Office as an assistant. This was at the tail end of the Vietnam War era and I was a Conscientious Objector to military service. I thus had to perform civilian service instead of being drafted into the military. That’s why I worked in the Chaplain’s Office.

After a so-so high school outside a small city in western Pennsylvania the intellectual life at Hopkins came as a welcome revelation to me. Ideas seemed important. Well, sorta’. Continue reading

Dance to the Music: the Kids Owned the Day

6 Dec

It IS, after all, about them, no?

Here’s the scene: A middle school auditorium in suburban New Jersey. It’s late Saturday afternoon on the second day of a dance competition. The auditorium is filled—but only loosely—with young dancers and their parents, other family, and friends. They’re all waiting for the last performance of the competition.

Some hip hop comes up on the sound system and a few of the dancers begin moving to the music. Some of them are standing up from their positions in the audience and are dancing in place. A couple others, at the far left and far right down front, are dancing in the outside aisles. More start joining in.

Down front, in the center, the action photographer—the guy who’s there to shoot photos of each dance number so they can then be sold to parents—is sitting down front on his high swivel chair. He’s smiling, swiveling in the chair to survey the scene, and he starts clapping on the backbeat.

That’s me.

Now another hip hop number comes up and, in a whooshhh! dancers get up out of their seats, rush to the aisles, and the aisles are jammed with kids joyously dancing. Five, six, eight, eleven, fifteen years old, a few older. Even the dancers waiting in the wings on stage for the final number, they danced too.

All dancing. 100, 200, maybe more. Dancing.

It was wonderful.

It made the day

How so?

Competitive dance.

What’s that?

What it is is an industry. There are some 200 companies in the USA that hold dance competitions, regional and then, in some cases, national.

Oh, You Mean Like Dancing with the Stars, only for kids?

Something like that. I don’t really know how it works because I’ve only seen this one day’s worth. What was going on that afternoon is that various dance studios would enter students in the competition as solos, duets or trios, small groups and so on, and they’re divided into a bunch of age groups so you don’t have four year olds competing against fourteen year olds. Continue reading

Colleges Turn to Crowd-Sourcing Courses – NYTimes.com

20 Nov

Professors delight in reaching more students in one course than they could otherwise teach in a lifetime. Dr. Ezekiel shows off a postcard from a student in Sri Lanka. Al Filreis, the poetry professor, tells of an 81-year-old Greek shut-in who got 180 responses to his essay on Emily Dickinson. There are stories of elderly students doing homework together at their assisted-living facility and Capitol Hill staff members taking the health policy course.

via Colleges Turn to Crowd-Sourcing Courses – NYTimes.com.

Bulletin: KidZ Dig Worms

28 Oct

First, the Big Dig. Last year on Oct. 22 hundreds of citizens of Jersey City fanned out across the city and planted 10s of 1000s flowers. We did it again this year on Oct. 27. One thing I was reminded of on both occasions is that children really dig worms. Here’s last year:

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And this year:

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Life in the Vats: Have We Forgotten How to Make Things?

26 Oct

If so, we’re dead. Oh sure, as individuals, we’re going to die someday. What I’m talking about is our society, our culture. We can’t live on service and information. We need to make things.

At all levels.

My father spent his working life with the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. When he worked for there it was the second-largest steel company in the country, and perhaps the world. Now it doesn’t even exist.

I more or less know why the American steel industry collapsed—OPEC, high oil prices, foreign cars invading the American market, and so forth. I’m not pretending that didn’t happen or that we can go back to those days. We can’t.

But we’re doing something wrong. It’s not simply that flipping burgers doesn’t pay as well as pouring steel—and it is, after all, a lot less dangerous. Nor does running down the aisles of a giant fulfillment warehouse pay as well as working the assembly-line in an automobile plant, and that gig is, if anything, more physically wearing. The pay is important.

But making things with your hands is more important. Being in the direct and immediate presence of morphing physical stuff—iron ore to iron, sheet metal to an auto body, thread to fabric, fabric to pajamas, logs to pulp, pulp to paper, paper to cut-outs for a home-made Halloween costume, seeds to earth to corn to hot-buttered corn-on-the cob—that’s VERY important. Continue reading

A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children – NYTimes.com

8 Sep

According to national Department of Education data, most of the nearly 40,000 students who were restrained or isolated in seclusion rooms during the 2009-10 school year had learning, behavioral, physical or developmental needs, even though students with those issues represented just 12 percent of the student population. African-American and Hispanic students were also disproportionately isolated or restrained.

Joseph Ryan, an expert on the use of restraints who teaches at Clemson University, told me that the practice of isolating and restraining problematic children originated in schools for children with special needs. It migrated to public schools in the 1970s as federal laws mainstreamed special education students, but without the necessary oversight or staff training. “It’s a quick way to respond but it’s not effective in changing behaviors,” he said.

via A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children – NYTimes.com.