The Edutained American

.. s on to shift some of the responsibility to teachers, who adapt to their students requirements and entertain them. Are entertaining teachers such a bad thing? How many students, of any generation, enjoy a professor who lectures in monotone, with no videos, slides, or other teaching aids? Perhaps the new breed of educator is, in fact, good for our nation; GPAs are, after all, higher than ever in high schools and colleges. Possibly these teachers are exactly what we need; they reach the students, and if they make learning easier, then students must be learning more, correct? Unfortunately, this is not the case. While grade point averages may be higher now, it is not the result of better teaching or more capable students, but of instructors willing to lower standards and cater to student whims.

This is shown by the abysmally low scores of US students in standardized tests, from the SAT to the 3rd International Mathematics and Science Study, a test of twelfth graders, where ..no other country marked lower than the US in student performance in advanced math and science. (Christian Science Monitor, Feb 25 1998:1) Educators no longer challenge students. They accommodate our preference for entertaining lessons and information that can be boiled down to Cliffs Notes. As a result, we are no longer competitive with students from other nations. By far the worst result of this devaluing of education, however, is the difficulties our nation will face when the reins of leadership need to be passed on.

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Will this generation be ready? Pronouncements by the media indicate that this generation is, at best, unconcerned with politics, and at worst, incapable of the critical thinking needed to make political decisions. Students who display a lack of interest in their own education and are constantly reminded that intellectual ability is not valued in popular culture can hardly be expected to develop the skills necessary to participate in government in any informed manner. An early indication of our students shortage of concern for politics can be found in the similar disinterest in schoolwork and learning. Laurence Steinberg, as reported in the Kansas City Star, says that the students failure to learn is by their own choice. ..it is a problem of attitude and effort, not ability.

(KC Star, Sept 1 1996:A-18) This deficiency in desire for knowledge can be traced back to the values that students see in the media. Again, the images of intelligence are not flattering. Smart characters on such shows as Married..With Children are often unattractive and the object of ridicule. Even on those shows where all of the characters are supposedly educated and of at least average intelligence, those that actively pursue higher learning and critical or theoretical thinking are odd, not a part of the main, admired pack. All of the students interviewed, regardless of age, recognized this trend and see its application in everyday life.

One of the students had this to say: Curiosity is not encouraged by your peers; if you ask questions or know the answers youre a freak. Maybe it isnt so bad in college, but by now were programmed not to excel if we want to be popular. (Int 6) Another student acknowledged that he dislikes students who ask questions in class and does want discussions to be prolonged, but would rather ..get it over with. (Int 3) These students are the future of our nation. One wants to learn, but has been discouraged, the other seems to actively avoid difficult concepts and extra work. What kind of decision-making skills have these students acquired, and what difference will this make to our system of government? It may be safe to say that the latter will not seek out information and will instead allow himself to be fed his opinions by the prevailing wind in the media.

It seems that this student is indicative of the majority of American youth, if we are to believe the numbers quoted in the Christian Science Monitor of Sept 8, 1998, which demonstrate how little US students know about our government and history. In addition to lacking the skills to make informed political decisions, the pervasiveness of the media and its effects on our learning abilities and values make our economic future bleak. When students are so accustomed to advertisements blaring in their ears that they no longer notice them, they become susceptible to the imagery in many ads. Unless they have cultivated the ability to think analytically, there is nothing to stop sponsors from pulling consumers in whatever direction they want them to go. They will not have the intellectual means to stop corporations from telling them what they want and what is best for them.

This mindless consumerism is a direct threat to democracy. As Barber states: ..capitalism seeks consumers susceptible to the shaping of their needs and the manipulation of their wants while democracy needs citizens autonomous in their thoughts and independent in their deliberative judgments. (Barber, 1996:15) Where will students learn autonomous thought if they refuse to learn anything that is not presented in a song-and-dance routine, which is, after all, what they are conditioned to respond to? Part Three: Regaining Ourselves What the evidence does not show is this: most students want to learn. It is not surprising that surface research often does not indicate this, and test scores and teacher evaluations do not reflect it, for students have learned nothing form the media if not how to mask their true selves. Of the students interviewed, four believe that a B would be a reasonable average grade, rather than the traditional C average.

Four students also concede that one of the top two qualities of a good teacher is the willingness to accommodate learning styles and abilities, indicating a willingness to learn within those abilities and a need for teachers who connect and work with them. The students all exhibit a preference for teachers who are helpful and who wanted to impart knowledge (Int 4). How do we take this hidden thirst for knowledge and bring it to the forefront? First, we must counteract the principles shown in the media. It may be too much to ask that student quit watching television, listening to music, or reading magazines, but we can teach them to watch with a critical mind. We know that children begin to develop their own ethical codes very early, shaped by family and teachers.

We must acknowledge, then, that the media also has the power to influence people, and start teaching children to observe and question as early as possible. If we can ingrain in the young a sense of their own intelligence and give them both the tools to distinguish fact from fiction and the empowerment to assert themselves and stand by their observations, they will grow up able to find their own path without undue influence from the media corporate America. For those students already past childhood, we must decrease the stigma attached to intellectual curiosity. These students must be allowed to recognize their own potential and the need that they have to achieve it. These students can also be taught to keep a critical eye on the world around them, and the advertisements they see.

To this end, some teachers are turning corporate sponsors teaching aids against them. Ms. Beccera, a teacher in the Seattle school district, uses Hersheys The Chocolate Dream Machine to demonstrate ..the art of seeing behind the image being presented (New York Times, Jan 5 1997:30). Her students will learn to question the motives and truthfulness of corporations that provide these types of aids, and, by learning to be fact-suspect, will not be so easily swayed by commercialism in the future. Young adults and the children now coming up may have been raised in an environment permeated with harmful images, but we can learn to tune these images out. Teachers and parents need only to set an example by questioning the media themselves, and showing students that independent thought is far more valuable than any popularity promised by advertisements or wealth touted in television shows.

The youth of America are absolutely capable of regaining our liberty from indifference and materialism. We can develop ideas unconstrained by the media. We have the tools to do so, we only need to be shown them. Bibliography work sited (not MLA standard) Altschulter, Glenn C. Let Me Edutain You Barber, Benjamin R.

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