Sunday, January 25, 2009


Ed Kemmick gives space today to the ideas of Don Tapscott, who argues that people born between 1978 and 1994 are "smarter, quicker and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors."

My thoroughly unscientific response, based on a few years of knocking around high school and college campuses:

1. Smarter? No. Intelligence doesn't vary much from generation to generation. A kid who grew up on a farm during the Depression may have been vastly ignorant of the wide world, but he knew how to saddle and ride a horse, fix a fence, milk a cow, pluck a chicken, raise a garden, fix a tractor, read the weather, hunt a varmint, read the Bible and carve a living out of hard dirt. You think he was dumber than a kid who knows how to Google?

2. Quicker? Yep, at least on certain tasks. Students today seem substantially more world wise, adaptable and sophisticated than the ruffians I grew up with. But that comes at a price. The "rote learning" that education consultants criticize gave earlier students a sense of history and context that is lacking in many kids today. If you don't know that the Civil War started in 1861, you can probably get through life just fine. But if you don't know that the Civil War happened in the 19th century, then you don't have enough information for Wikipedia to help.

3. More tolerant of diversity? No doubt about it, at least on certain push-button issues: race, sexual orientation, abortion.

One more thing: Tapscott trashes the lecture method. That's popular, and most teachers, including me, are always looking for alternatives to simply telling students stuff. But when I think back on my most memorable college classes, it's amazing how many of them mostly involved just listening to a professor talk. There is something to be said for just letting smart people talk about the things they know and love. It's called education.

SIDEBAR: Intelligent Discontent has been posting a lot about education lately. Well worth a read.

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