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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Are we getting smarter or dumber?


Every year around the holidays we sit around the kitchen table and compare yesteryear to today. My daughter, who's an elementary schoolteacher, doesn't think the children of today are as smart as those of her era. I think that she's basing her opinion on what she sees and not on a scientific study. She might just be seeing something where the fault lies with the curriculum and not the students themselves. Several years ago, I showed my daughter an article that showed the lesson plans of a one-room school where all grades were taught at the same time. The year was in the late 1800s where the students were routinely taught algebra and calculus. We both looked that the problems and admitted that we probably couldn't pass the tests they did.

College dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, and Bob Gates will continue to amaze me, and I will always wonder how much further they might have gone if they completed their education. There is a legitimate argument that it a decree does not always equate to intelligence. I do believe good study habits, intelligence, and work ethics are in a way inherited. The four people I mentioned did not grow up in poverty or to a family that didn't believe in education.

I happen to think I'm smarter today than I was years ago because I'm more inquisitive. I'm not a genius, but I’m more willing to self educate myself than I was several years ago. I used to study for the test, and then I would forget about the subject until a needed it again. I took that same mindset to the workplace and became complacent. It wasn't until we started to computerize everything when I decided I needed to change if I was going keep my job. My fellow old timers were fighting the new system tooth and nail, but I saw the younger workers taking to it and loving it. I saw where computers could make things easier for me and my work mates. I decided to study the system and got to where I could work with the programmers to make the computers work for our specific needs since they were  originally set up to monitor basic operations. Was that a form of intelligence or a lazy person wanting to make things easier?

I have seen teenagers’ text message at 100 miles an hour and believe me that takes brainpower. I'm guessing you could put that same person at McDonald's, and they would have trouble giving you correct change. I've seen people my age who knew practically everything about their job, but the outside world was a puzzle to them. I've also seen where prisoners have created an elaborate scheme to code their messages and have created a business model that rival our Fortune 500. It that a quest for survival or a form of intelligence?I've always thought that intelligence was based on how quickly a person could grasp what was taught to them. I changed my mind when I started learning how some intelligent tests were based on familiarity with a subject rather than the ability to grasp. I remember reading about some employment and advancement  tests that were unfair to some minorities because they were unfamiliar with the environment that the questions were based on.

I've read stories where the military had to rewrite their manuals (dumb it down) because the new recruits were having a hard time learning how to use the sophisticated weaponry. Is that the fault of the recruits or our education system?

This morning I heard that the reason for our lack of intelligence today is that our children are being analyzed as being hyperactive rather than being diagnosed as being a normal boy who occasionally goes overboard The boy is then given Ritalin, which is then replaced with another drug as he progresses through his teen-age years. The author also said that the strong male role model is not like it once was. I don't agree or disagree with that synopsis because I can't relate to it. Fortunately, my children were not under medication, but we would not have looked for subnormal behavior patterns because we didn't know what to look for. In my day the norm was, "if was good enough for me then you'll get the same type of parenting." It's funny how being grandparents change our mind when it comes to our grandchildren.

I won't watch "Are you smarter than a fifth grader" because I don't want to know.


Rebecca said...

One theory is that children don't have as much play time as they used to. UNFETTERED play is important for the development of creativity, intelligence, and self-regulation.

---From the article:

It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.

We know that children's capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn't stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning says, the results were very different.

"Today's 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today's 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago," Bodrova explains. "So the results were very sad."

"Because of the testing, and the emphasis now that you have to really pass these tests, teachers are starting earlier and earlier to drill the kids in their basic fundamentals. Play is viewed as unnecessary, a waste of time," Singer says. "I have so many articles that have documented the shortening of free play for children, where the teachers in these schools are using the time for cognitive skills."

It seems that in the rush to give children every advantage — to protect them, to stimulate them, to enrich them — our culture has unwittingly compromised one of the activities that helped children most. All that wasted time was not such a waste after all.

---end quote from article.

Mike said...

I heard something like that early this morning...The author said we used to come home (50-60 years ago)and go to a close by field and explore..I don't know if that's the same but why wouldn't viedo games do the same thing?I know that's a stupid question......Do you think the author I quoted overstated his case? Can the children overcome this without therapy or drugs?

Rebecca said...

They aren't ruined, they are just different. When using old measurements, their modern brains will be -- not as smart. Though we all know that they can figure out this technology with greater ease than we can. So, they have a smart that we don't! I'm embarrassed to say that my kids can work the surround sound etc and I can not. I have to say, "hey, how do I get this on t.v. and surround sound?" or "Hey, someone hook my iPod up to the surround sound." I feel like an idiot in this hi-tech world that THEY feel so comfortable in. It's their NORMAL - while it's new to me.

Rebecca said...

I complained to my grandmother once about how one of my children didn't understand a certain mathematical concept, and I was worried. It was something that was expected of all first graders. My grandmother said something like, "What happened to letting children be children? When I was in first grade, we were building things with clay, not worrying about feet, inches, and yards." She then asked why we expect more and more of children earlier and earlier.

I think she was on to something.

There are skills that need to be developed in order for later knowledge to "stick."

I think PLAY helps children internalize concepts that they will one day learn the scientific terms for. I think play helps children develop common sense.

Learning about certain concepts too early - is not better than unfettered play.

(I don't mean "play" as video games.)

Mike said...

Your're a great teacher,sorry you had to dumb it down for me..:-). I now understand,thanks...I'll be the smartest one at the table this Christmas...

Rebecca said...

I don't think I had a point or anything. I just needed a place to comment. You are the best host!

Mike said...

Rebecca ,you are too modest,your link ,your summary and your patience,helped me understand another view of a subject that I'm interested in.

I't easy being a host to  intelligent posters who want to have a civil discussion....It's a different situation on the VA,as you well know.