I hear and read a lot about information overload. I hear and read about kids not having filters or the requisite skills to make sense of their worlds. I hear and read about kids being addicted to technology. I hear and read about a world and society drowning in information.
I’d like to share a counter-perspective.
I think that kids at school are suffocating in information. They simply cannot get enough of it at school. It’s as if we adults are expecting our kids to learn with lungs while their gills flap and flutter in a morse code of desperation that we don’t understand and/or pointedly ignore.
To put it another way, information is bottle-necked at school through print and out modes containers of staffing and scheduling. Imagine a bottle of water. The stream of water that the bottle can accommodate pouring out at once might slake our adult thirst for information, but our kids need an ocean of information into which they can dive and from which they can drink in huge, slurping gulps that look somehow vulgar or excessive to us. We want to sip. We want the bottle to help us control the flow of information. Our kids want to live in information, and they don’t necessarily want to bottle it back up for us in quizzes, worksheets, or papers. They want to amass giant stores of information – some of it “academic,” some of it “social” – and then share it with networks that they help define – networks that in many cases provide larger and more authentic audience than even a class of 30 does.
Our convention forms of communication are too information poor for our kids to enjoy or make sense of – they seem arbitrary, random, and unconnected because we present information that way and ask for it to be returned to us that way by kids who are used to a seamless physical and virtual space of personal and collective meaning-making. No kid adept at navigating a social network or the open-world of a sandbox single-player video game or the communally generated world of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) can help thinking that school sucks by comparison because it asks so little of them, gives them too little information to consider fruitfully, and simultaneously tells them that they suck if they can’t hack it in an information impoverished institution.
I argue that our kids don’t have information processing problems or skills deficits – what they have is an inability to articulate how it is they live and learn because we prohibit the development of such a vocabulary at school to preserve adult control and custodianship of privilege and knowledge.
What have we done more of this year: helped kids articulate how they learn or judged them by our information-weak standards of learning and pro-academic behavior?
When our children run into difficulty and danger in our brave new world, it’s not because they are incapable of responding responsibly, but because we adults staunchly refuse to acknowledge the emergence of a post-print literacy, and therefore shirk our responsibilities as educators at public schools to form relevant relationships with kids, to provide them with authentic work (such as collaborating on a game-layer for a community-service social network), or to prepare them for citizenship in the world they are creating largely without us.
At best, we are deliberately leaving kids alone in a dark sea of information; at worst we are suffocating their minds.
To put it another way, our kids are crossing the ocean of information, or perhaps adapting to life in it, and we are staying behind on shore either snarling them in our nets or insisting that we can govern them from across the sea.
Learn about an emergent industry; understand the roles in it; attempt a jig-saw puzzle that approximates its work. We have to start learning about the world, too. We adults have to grow some gills before our lungs drown. Digital literacy and citizenship cannot be bottled up in reading, writing, and behaving just so on a screen.