Friday, November 6, 2009

Are We Smarter After 40 Years?

Sesame Street is celebrating its 40th anniversary. When it first came to television, I remember thinking how much I would have enjoyed the show and how much I would have learned from it when I was a kid. It was 1969 and I was too old for Sesame Street, but too young for Woodstock. I was shocked by the Manson murders, Vietnam, and Chappaquiddick. I was thrilled with the moon landing and my first calculator. My biggest goal in life was to graduate from high school and move on to college.

When I think of the technological advancements in the past 40 years, I'm completely overwhelmed. From books to educational toys to tutoring software, from cassettes to 8-tracks to CDs to DVDs to Blu-Ray, from CRT to plasma to LCD, from simple calculators to advanced computers, from chalkboards to white boards to smart boards, from writing notes in class to sending IMs on iPhones and Blackberrys and Twitter and Facebook, from encyclopedias to the Internet...the list goes on and on.

But have all these advancements made kids smarter? Are they scoring better on exams? Do they know more that we did 40 years ago? Would I be smarter today if I had watched Sesame Street when I was a kid?

Students are much more knowledgeable about technology, but do they read better? Is their reading comprehension improved? Can they solve math problems better? Do they have a better understanding of science and history and their implications for the future? Can they draw conclusions and make inferences from the knowledge they have?

In my experience, I would have to answer "no." Often times I've felt all the technology was more of a distraction than a learning tool, that it provided more entertainment than value.

I'd be the first to say that technology and entertainment have great potential for the advancement of learning. Children need to learn and if these things help and make it more fun, all the better. I just question whether it's really helping them. I don't know. Will they be able to solve the problems that lie ahead in medicine, transportation, the environment, habitat, and communications? Will they be the great thinkers and innovators or will they be content to use their knowledge of technology to run the cash register at the local fast food restaurant?

I don't know. I worry that it may all be too overwhelming for students and teachers. What do you think?

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