Every so often, I read a book that just keeps popping into my conversations. I guess that means that the book made an impression, like it or not.
I just finished Mark Prensky‘s book “Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning“. In this book Mark is making the case that our children are learning far more from their video games than we give them credit for. He makes some really good points, especially in the first half. After presenting his case that video games are “good,” and that our kids think differently because of the high tech, high speed world in which they are immersed, he goes on to present ideas for harnessing that power for the good of their educations. I’m afraid I started to lose rapport with his flow, because I’m already pretty opinionated about my kids’ education.
I think the most interesting idea he presents is the distiction between “digital natives” (our kids) and “digital immigrants” (us). Some of live in the digital world, but we will always speak with an accent. That fits me to a T. While we were debating the pros and cons of email vs. paper letters, our kids left email behind and moved on to IM, texting, and tweeting.
The book is addressed to the parents who have no idea what their kids are doing on the computer. He explores the depth and complexity of today’s games, as compared to the pong, solitaire, and MineSweeper most of us are used to. This is not new to me — I have always enjoyed video games, from Zork and Asteroids to Myst and Duke Nukem. It’s just that now I live in Colorado, and there are too many outdoor activities competing for my time :). Unfortunately, Mark paints a pretty rosy picture of these online activities. I know that the majority (or a vocal minority) of participants in the big wide online universe act like idiots. It only takes a minute on YouTube to see what kind of people are commenting… In fact, do a Google search for “youtube comments” — the entire first page is rants about the commenting idiots and utilities to filter them out.
Anyway – back to the topic. Marc gives an example of a child who is running a 200 person guild in his online world. That’s great for him, but I have to wonder. First of all, for every leader of a 200 person guild, there are 199 followers. Second (of all?), how many of those followers would I allow to speak to my kids in person? What kind of language will they be exposed to? Yes, I know we all have to deal with coarse language out in the real world, but why start dealing with it any earlier than necessary?
Our kids are growing up in a different environment that we grew up in. Change is coming faster. Information is more available. Ideas are presented in smaller and smaller bytes. Multitasking is the norm. Current brain research favors neuroplasticity — our brains adapt to their inputs. It makes sense to me that our kids’ brains are developing differently than ours did; with different strengths and weaknesses. They are used to (from their games) a fast paced learning environment, to rapid feedback, and to an environment that adapts to fit their performance. Compared to this, school is slow, ill-fitting, and dull. I have to think that this is a trend to fight, however. This mode of learning is great for getting up to speed on something new, but it is not well suited to learning deeply, to reflecting on consequences, or to really developing an idea. The use of ubiquitous search and research resources (e.g. Google) can only help you catch up to the pack – it won’t get you ahead. Somebody has to be the first to solve any given problem before it can be published for everyone else.
My takeaway from this book is this: I can get involved in my kids games. I can listen to their stories and appreciate their accomplishments. In many cases, I can play with them. It’s good quality time, and if anything offensive comes up, it’s a good opportunity for discussions that may go far beyond the game itself. I will not go so far as to say “games are good,” because they unquestionably (in myh mind) take time away from things that are better. However, I realize that I have had a very negative attitude about something that is a big part of my children’s lives. I have not been willing to take it away, but I also tend to be a sourpuss about it.
As for the educational impact, and the steps he recommends for parents, teachers, and schools, I have to pass. Nobody can educate a child better than a loving, involved parent. We will continue to teach our kids at home, tayloring the school day to their particular learning styles, catering to their interests and passions, and encouraging them to think deeply.