If you follow one corner of the media world, we’re all gonna die.
Over on other channels, all is good and any panic is just another conspiracy.
The truth about the world-wide outbreak of coronavirus, of course, lies somewhere in the middle.
What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we will mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that, if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all. What can we do then? What else is left but to abandon even the hope of truth and content ourselves instead with stories? In these stories, it doesn’t matter who the heroes are. All we want to know is who is to blame.
— The opening lines from HBO’s mini-series Chernobyl
Kids are spending too much time with digital screens.
At least they are according to some high profile studies, scary media stories about a tech backlash among “technologists” themselves, and many, many surveys of parents and teachers.
But what if they’re wrong?
In an interesting new book, “The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World”, Jordan Shapiro, a professor of philosophy and senior fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, argues that kids interacting with screens is just all part of growing up in a new age.
Shapiro draws on his understanding of history and centuries of philosophical thought to say that kids who spend hours engaged with devices are simply learning about and adapting to the world around them. It seems different from parents came of age but really is not.
Grown-ups are disoriented because, at first glance, today’s screen media seem personal and private. When kids are watching YouTube videos or playing video games, it feels like the devices are pulling them away from the family and into a cocoon. But also, in a paradoxical twist, the screens function like portals that transport kids out of the house, beyond the perfect picket fence, and into a vast public dystopian virtual reality. Hence, parents are confused. They don’t know whether their kids are too detached or too exposed. All they know for sure is that traditional home life feels out of order; things aren’t neat and organized.
This anxiety is understandable. But remember that new technologies will always beget new routines. Your job as a parent is not to stop unfamiliar tools from disrupting your nostalgic image of the ideal childhood, nor to preserve the impeccable tidiness of the Victorian era’s home/work split. Instead, it’s to prepare your kids to live an ethical, meaningful, and fulfilled life in an ever – changing world.
Shapiro is not saying that parents (and teachers) should just hand devices to the kids and walk away. Instead he offers some historical context of family life when dealing with other technologies and makes the case that parents can still guide their children without heavy-handed restrictions.
He simply wants parents to take a closer look at what is going on when kids are interacting with those screens and guide them in their use of devices, video games, social media, and the rest of the digital world. “Just say no” doesn’t work here either.
This is just a small part of what Shapiro discusses in the book, and you may very well disagree with some of his conclusions. However, his thoughts on the matter are something every adult who interacts with children should read and consider.
A math major who turned out to be not very good as a mathematician, looks back at his studies and nevertheless finds some lessons he learned that have “nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with life”. He offers some nuggets in this essay that will apply regardless of the subjects you studied.
1. I expect to not get the answer on the first try.
It might sound pessimistic, but I think it’s pragmatic. I was rarely discouraged, because I never expected a quick win. And if I was correct on the first stab, I was pleasantly surprised. I became well-rehearsed in failed attempts, and so much more patient as a result.
I learned that lesson very early in my mathematical studies and it was one I tried to convey to my students when I started teaching.
Accepting that things don’t always work right the first time leads directly to this.
2. I can tolerate ungodly amounts of frustration.
Writer’s block has nothing on a tough math problem, and I’ve suffered through both. Writer’s block usually boils down to you thinking you’re not good enough. With math, it feels like the universe is mocking your ineptitude.
Of course math concepts can be frustrating. But there are plenty of other fields, like writing, that have their own unique stumbling blocks. Plenty of other endeavors, academic and not, have mocked my ineptitude over my life.
But frustration is not fun for anyone. Which leads into his third lesson learned.
3. I attack problems from multiple angles
Studying math was like maintaining a toolbox. Each time I learned something new, into the big red box that newfound knowledge went. Who knew when it would be useful? Long-buried methods could be just the socket wrench I needed later on.
Again, any field of study has it’s own set of tools. And any problem worth solving requires looking at the issues from different points of view. People who are successful at anything have assembled their tools and have learned how to try different ones when confronted with a new problem.
Again, an approach we need to be teaching our students, regardless of the subject on the syllabus.
The former mathematician has a few other lessons and more to say if you care to read the whole essay. But this for me is the bottom line:
Six years into my career, I can say that being comfortable with numbers and data has been useful, but what has proved invaluable are the qualities that math imbued in me?—?patience, attention to detail, humility and persistence. That was the true reward.
So, should every student take a rigorous program of mathematics in order to gain these qualities? Of course not.
Learning to write, mastering the French horn, creating the sound design for a play, repairing an automobile, all have answers that elude solution on the first try, create frustration, and require multiple approaches to succeed.
With the right teachers, students can learn patience, attention to detail, humility, and patience by working on the skills necessary for whatever interests them.