Friday, December 03, 2010

Don Tapscott: New York Times Cover Story on "Growing Up Digital" Misses the Mark

Not everyone had the same reaction, however (I think this is mostly nonsense – it completely ignores the obvious):

It's a pretty bleak picture that would make any teacher and parent want to pull the plug. To be sure, technology can be a distraction. If students are not performing well in school it's the responsibility of parents and teachers to help them organize their lives for success. And of course kids need balance. If your son spends more time in solitary video game playing than hanging with his friends or doing his homework then corrective action is required.

However the Times piece is so clichéd and one-sided that it's more than misleading: it's dangerous. Anecdotes can be deceptive. Making the case that kids are not performing well is like shooting fish in a barrel. Jay Leno does it all the time. However while anecdotes and an occasional expert quote about how kids can't focus makes for a good read, the data speaks otherwise. And there are some very big issues being discussed in this piece, not just about technology and kids, but its role in the home, schools and society. And I worry that many parents and teachers might draw the wrong conclusion.

To begin, there is no actual evidence to support the view that this generation is distracted, performing poorly or otherwise less capable than previous generations. In fact the evidence suggests that on the whole, this is the smartest generation ever. IQ is up year over year for many years, university entrance exam scores are at an all time high and it has never been tougher to get into the best universities. Furthermore, volunteering amongst high school and university students is at an all time high and in the US the percentage of kids that are clean in high school -- i.e. they don't do drugs or alcohol -- is up year over year for 15 years. This is a generation about which we can be enormously hopeful.

Yes, the bottom tier is not performing well -- almost one-third of all students drop out of high school. But even with this group dragging mean scores down there is no noticeable decline in performance. National testing in the U.S. suggests that over the last decade or so, students have improved, especially at the Grade 4 and 8 level, while Grade 12 students have either stayed the same or improved slightly in writing, civics and history.

And when it comes to the poor performance of the bottom tier, blaming the Internet is like blaming the library for illiteracy.



Don Tapscott

Posted: November 23, 2010 06:22 PM

New York Times Cover Story on "Growing Up Digital" Misses the Mark

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