November 21, 2010

"The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently" — "rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing."

Says Harvard Med School professor Michael Rich in this "most-emailed" NYT article about these kids today.

The article begins with an anecdote about a high-school student — Vishal Singh — who wasn't making much progress reading the book he was assigned to read over the summer. Hey! The book is Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle," the book I was assigned to read in the summer of 1969. It's what the professors at the University of Michigan's experimental college — the Residential College (R.C.) — thought we ought to read to align our brains for whatever it was they planned to do to us.

Ha:
We Bokonists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon "If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons," writes Bokonon, "that person may be a member of your karass." At another point in The Books of Bokonon he tells us, "Man created the checkerboard; God created the karass." By that he means that a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries. It is as free form as an amoeba.
Now, where are you more likely to find the other members of your karass? Sitting alone in your room reading "Cat's Cradle," or weaving your way through Facebook? The great irony is that if you were really into "Cat's Cradle," you'd love the web and the way kids today swim in it.

From the Wikipedia entry on Bokononism:
The religion of the people of San Lorenzo, called Bokononism, encompasses concepts unique to the novel, with San Lorenzan names such as:
granfalloon - a false karass; i.e., a group of people who imagine they have a connection that does not really exist. An example is "Hoosiers"; Hoosiers are people from Indiana, and Hoosiers have no true spiritual destiny in common, so really share little more than a name.
Another example might be the teenagers who attend Vishal Singh's high school.
Busy, busy, busy - words Bokononists whisper upon witnessing an example of how interconnected everything is
... on the internet!

Hey, sorry. I got distracted. I was going to tell you all about that NYT article. I think something has happened to my brain. But I'm not a teenager. I'm practically a sexagenarian. Would it be wrong of me to be in your karass?

26 comments:

The Crack Emcee said...

The word cult just isn't used enough these days.

shoutingthomas said...

Fascinating.

The mandarin class sees this as the ultimate in "critical thinking:" Replay the 60s.

Fred4Pres said...

I just re-read American Gods.

That is a fine book.

And in a tangental way, yes it is on point to this post.

ricpic said...

That Ho-Hum shtick of Vonnegut's put me off him for life. The original superior shit.

Marshal said...

"It's what the professors at the University of Michigan's experimental college — the Residential College (R.C.) — thought we ought to read to align our brains for whatever it was they planned to do to us."

Hardly surprising given the book preaches that those who believe their lives are fulfilling are in reality in need of some expert to come along and show them everything they think they know is wrong. Unfortunately those most in need of understanding the message mistakenly believe they are the experts.

B said...

I'm fond of Robin Hanson's views on education:

"School isn’t about learning “material,” school is about learning to accept workplace domination and ranking, and tolerating long hours of doing boring stuff exactly when and how you are told."

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/08/school-isnt-about-learning.html

"Schools produce future workers; … schools socialize students to accept beliefs, values, and forms of behavior on the basis of authority rather than the students’ own critical judgement of their interests."

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/06/school-attitudes.html

edutcher said...

Since this was in the Gray Lady, let me throw this out FWIW:

Maybe the idea that kids' brains will be wired differently scares them in a way they don't want to admit. That staying on task is how people are regimented and jumping to the next thing makes them think individually and more out of the box.

Considering John Dewey set up public education to produce good little automatons, that would truly be frightening to a lot of people.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm practically a sextagenarian.

All right, I'll say it...

You've been a sextagenarian for a long time and show no sign of losing it.

And I'll leave your karass alone if you'll do the same.

PS Isn't it sexagenarian?

PPS I think a lot of work in the future will be by telecommuting and that big office buildings, status symbols or no, will be regarded as the white elephants they are.

Clyde said...

If we have to have those karass things, I think I'd like to have some of those hot Ukrainian babes from the topless protest group FEMEN in mine.

Fen said...

It's what the professors at the University of Michigan's experimental college — the Residential College (R.C.) — thought we ought to read to align our brains for whatever it was they planned to do to us.

I think alot of us already do this. I'll read a certain type of book that will pattern my thinking a specific way for a huge task thats coming up.

Same with Chess. Its like warming up your problem solving skillset.

Is what they're talking about?

deborah said...

Maybe comment sections are a type of karass.

I think there was also a Great Re-wiring in kids' brains from the late fifties on. Gilligan's Island and Jeanie after school, Saturday morning cartoons, Mary Tyler Moore, Newhart, MASH, in primetime. All with commercial programming throughout. What were we programmed to do?

FormerTucsonan said...

By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.

Ah! "Bright", there's the problem!

Later...

Several teachers call Vishal one of their brightest students, and they wonder why things are not adding up. Last semester, his grade point average was 2.3 after a D-plus in English and an F in Algebra II. He got an A in film critique.

Film critique! Well, alrighty then!

William said...

We did not recognize we were in a dot com or real estate bubble until it went splat. That is also the characteristic of a granfalloon. I've had some work relationoships that turned out be karasses and romances that were, in fact, granfalloons. You don't know until you know.......Also some things that Vonnegut would characterize as granfallons are not. Depending on the country, patriotism is not a granfalloon and is frequently a karass.

MayBee said...

"rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing.""

Why not blame Sesame Street?

BEK477 said...

Althouse Woman,
You may be in my karass when ever you want. I will bring the cookies (Oatmeal, Cranberry, Walnut). You may bring the wisdom and the puckish sense of humor.
I am off to rub cones with my tribe of Beldar wannabees.
Happy Trials,

jr565 said...

I do notice now that I'm using netflix that I am have much less patience watching movies than I used to. There are so many choices on my queue I feel like I'm wasting time if I don't get to the next one as soon as ppossible. As such I notice I'm fast forwarding through a lot of movies looking for the key scenes rather than just taking the whole move in.
The other option is that I just happen to be watching some crappy movies that are hard to sit through without wanting to be somewhere else. ANd if they suck, why devote a lot of time to them.

Ann Althouse said...

"PS Isn't it sexagenarian?"

You're right. Thanks for pointing that out. I wouldn't have noticed.

Freeman Hunt said...

Assigned summer reading? Who does that? Maybe three kids do it in the very last week. I don't remember anyone completing summer reading.

Note to kids in school: Don't let school boss you around all summer! Read whatever you want. No one is going to care. Also, nearly everything the system wants you to think is important isn't. So your quest is to find out what's really important. Go forth and explore.

bgates said...

Several teachers call Vishal one of their brightest students

It sounds like he has never really been challenged intellectually. What I sense in him is not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that they have to be really taxed in order for him to be happy.

Maybe things would be different if his summer assignment were to go to the South Pacific to write his memoirs.

prairie wind said...

How many of us had computers in school? Maybe those who were there in the mid-80s and on, right? But there are plenty of 50- and 60-year-old programmers and IT types where I work. They all picked it up later. Kids don't need to be taught about technology in school--they'll pick it up easily enough later.

As for those kids texting in between classes...that sounds like a discipline problem at the school. Cell phones should not be allowed during class.

“It’s in their DNA to look at screens,” he asserts. And he offers another analogy to explain his approach: “Frankenstein is in the room and I don’t want him to tear me apart. If I’m not using technology, I lose them completely.”

In their DNA? What a load of crap. And for this oh-so-cool teacher...Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster. No wonder he's a cool teacher instead of one who actually teaches something that matters.

prairie wind said...

If that is an excerpt from Vonnegut, no wonder the kid has read only a handful of pages. It sounds excruciating.

Alex said...

n their DNA? What a load of crap. And for this oh-so-cool teacher...Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster. No wonder he's a cool teacher instead of one who actually teaches something that matters.

In Mary Shelley's book it's actually refered to as "the monster". But a very articulate monster. One I wouldn't mind having a latte with.

Penny said...

"Would it be wrong of me to be in your karass?"

Of course not!

Now if only you could leave your "karass" long enough to visit Trooper York's and Crack's karass for a comment now and again...well, this karass business just might work.

/satire

Penny said...

"Hardly surprising given the book preaches that those who believe their lives are fulfilling are in reality in need of some expert to come along and show them everything they think they know is wrong. Unfortunately those most in need of understanding the message mistakenly believe they are the experts."

Read this book about the time Althouse read it. Fortunately, "the message" flew right over my head, and thankfully, I was able to graduate from college and eventually become an "expert" in something that had value to businesses that were willing to pay me money for that "expertise".

If I ever reread Cat's Cradle, I hope to be at an ashram in India with a bunch of insufferable, "retired hippies" as we all thank our lucky stars we aren't working at Walmart back in the states.

/still keeping up with the satire...except for that part about trying to focus on not being a hippie and working hard...

That part was true.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...

I didn't realize you were a product of the Residential College. I'll try not to hold it against you. At one point, I found myself shy 1 science credit; and the only 1 credit course I could fit in was an R.C. course on cosmology for non-astro majors. I don't know what sort of "critical thinking" the R.C. thought it was teaching, but my classmates were deficient in elementary logic and math. But they did some great interpretive dances on cosmology! It was a real struggle for a software geek and science fanatic to take the R.C. seriously after that.

As for not being able to read the assigned reading... Maybe the kid has a mental block like mine, also known as "a stiff neck". I read probably 50 pages a day, probably 4 or more books at once; but I have NEVER been able to read assigned reading, even when it's something I like. Reading is my pleasure; when it's assigned, it becomes work, and I rebel.

veni vidi vici said...

Get out of my dreams, get into my karass!

Vishal said...

Just came across this article. For the record, the NYT article failed to mention I finished Cat's Cradle... eventually. I thought it was fantastic. The only thing about the article that I met with dismay was how it seemed to portray my dilemma as "education vs technology, reading vs the computer." That's not how it is at all. Most of the time ON the internet I spend reading. I enjoy books. Now whether or not I feel the system in which my school runs limits my productivity, THAT'S another story. But anyways, yeah, just felt the desire to give that clarification! I'm not an illiterate YouTube junkie and I don't ignore wisdom from the past. Yet I also try thinking progressively and I feel the learning environment I'm put in does not cater to that or students who feel the same as me. I keep things a balance, I don't allow myself to focus on the extremes of one side or the other. Books aren't better then the internet. The internet isn't better then books. In the end, they're both just tools for me.