This is an article that I had written for An Idea! on Medium.
A book from the mid 1990s written by the educator Neil Postman, The End of Childhood, made me sit up as I noticed the similarities with what I am witnessing around me two decades after the book was penned.
Right after I finished the book a Facebook post listing a few of the most popular content creators in Bangladesh made me pause. Every single content creator made videos and the one person on the list not exactly famous for videos was being disparaged in the comments about her inclusion in the list. So people consider video to be the only valid type of content?
As I wondered why, I recalled reading in the book that “pictures require of the observer an aesthetic response. They call upon our emotions, not our reason. They ask us to feel, not to think.” Basically, instead of thinking, people react emotionally to pictures. In other words, as one scrolls through the newsfeed, one’s emotions are in a state of flux as the person reacts to picture after picture, an effect that is magnified many times over when using something like Instagram. This could explain why ADD (attention deficit disorder) and impulsiveness are both on the rise worldwide. This directly impacts academic activities negatively.
Academic activities require discipline, a child or an adolescent spending time on a newsfeed detached from text will fail to inculcate the necessary patience required to develop discipline (everything requires discipline to be exercised differently, academia requires its own as does training for sport or engaged in something as mundane as painting the wall). The rise of visual content has led to a large segment of those online left handicapped when asked to critically engage with information present in front of them.
This is the problem with online classes, depending on the material being presented and the age of the student, engagement ranges from superficial to a completely immersive experience. In the majority of the instances, the student will not bother to fully explore the matter unless the presentation was made in that manner. This kind of “education” is good in only one setting — instruction, what steps can you take to get a result. This is perfectly fine in the case of primary education (not entirely as children need physical interaction) and vocational training. In ALL other cases, this method of providing knowledge will fail or result in the rise of the certified academically challenged.
As the importance of “classroom” and “education” has eroded in Bangladesh since independence, the result is clear to see. You have students who are unable to display literacy beyond the limited scope of what it takes to advance to the next class. This report in Dhaka Tribune has aged well, https://www.dhakatribune.com/opinion/2018/05/28/primary-schools-are-failing-our-children. The intellectually morbid focus on achieving higher scores in standardized tests has led to an army ill-equipped with the tools of even basic literacy becoming a part of society and destabilising it.
How can an inability to be functionally literate destabilise society? Does this seem like an exaggeration and requires one to stretch one’s imagination from one end of the horizon to the other?
The primary problem with illiteracy, or in this case, limited literacy, is that it leaves a person with a limited capacity to deal with information, the vast majority of which is, and will remain, in textual form. This limited capacity to understand what little is acquired from the text encountered means people are increasingly disconnected from the instructions of how different systems, of which society is one, are structured to function. This means that people are increasingly having emotional responses to what they see and hear around them as the habit acquired by engaging with text, to pause and process the information available, is lost.
With this loss, individuals will increasingly lose patience in their dealings with others as they react emotionally without waiting for complete information, this brings about increasing atomisation of society and strengthens the libertarian approach to life (“me and my freedom matter most”). Such a society arranged by dysfunctional institutions and poor adherence to law and order invites only anarchy. Placing such a society in the midst of functional institutions and individual adherence to law and order, even if nominal, will seem no better than being in the front seat of a bus plunging straight into an abyss, you know it’s coming, you don’t know when or how long, and the terror of those moments will scar you psychologically.
The entirety of this argument is encapsulated succinctly in this little excerpt, “…we may say that the literate mind has sown the seeds of its own destruction through the creation of media that render irrelevant those ‘traditional skills’ on which literacy rests.” — pg. 150, The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman
The steps are as follows:
- Man becomes literate.
- Man develops books.
- Literacy becomes common.
- Literate people develop new forms of media to disseminate information and/or knowledge.
- The forms of media are anathema to the development of skills needed to achieve literacy.
- Man struggles to retain the literacy of the previous era.
Hence the argument “that the literate mind has sown the seeds of its own destruction”.
Is consumer technology something to be avoided in the realm of K12 education? No. However its use without the proper safeguards to nullify the latent harm associated with the extensive use of technology will be no different to laying out the red carpet to welcome disorder.