Thingish Things

Making Us Dumb

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Jun• 19•11

Only 17 percent of eighth graders in the U.S. scored at the “proficient” level in a standardized test on American history this year, the National Assessment Governing Board reports.  And that’s supposed to be good news. Eighth graders were the only age group tested that actually improved its proficiency percentage in the past five years.  Fourth graders and high school seniors lost ground. A full 80% of those seniors could not identify China as North Korea’s military ally in the Korean War — in a multiple choice question with only four answers.  Throwing a dart should yield 25%.

In a US citizenship test of 1,000 random Americans issued by Newsweek last year and cited by the Boston Globe this morning, 80% of US citizens could not name the American President who served during World War I. Yikes!

I cannot help but think that the Internet — especially handheld Internet devices — may have something to do with this.  And if they do not yet, they almost certainly will. Millions of Americans now walk around with portable encyclopedias in their pockets.  I use mine to look up stuff a dozen times a day.  Whereas I used to wrack my brain trying to remember some detail from history or the name of some actress or band member, I now routinely punch the query into my computer or handheld. I hate doing it, but it’s just so damned fast and convenient. Knowing that the information is always there, squirreled up in a digital cloud somewhere, just has to relax the brain’s retention mechanism.  It just has to.

I remember when handheld calculators first came out.  Teachers and parents warned that they should only be used to double check answers.  The devices, they feared, would teach students to forget how they had learned to think.  Perhaps they were on to something.  Now, calculators are used during exams — I still cant get over that — and I wonder how long it will be before handheld Internet devices are as well. All the Presidents names and nicknames are available at the punch of a few buttons, but nothing of what they espoused or how they served the nation will be internalized.

As these gadgets proliferate, what will be the need for a formal education at all? All students will need to know is how to ask questions into IPhone microphone. One doesn’t even need to spell type, or know how.  Ah, progress.



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  1. Your Friend says:

    Our children will be the last generation of students. After the singularity, there will be no need to learn any more. Knowledge will be delivered directly to your brain via a swarm of nano-bots. While this means that you will effectively be a cyborg, it will feel exactly as though you’re remembering the information that you’re recalling. If you can’t tell the difference between real thought and manufactured thought, is there any difference? This may seem unappealing to you, but it’s just like the rise of the internet, it will happen in increments and you’ll be fine with each of the tiny steps. If someone tells you that you can take a pill and you will no longer have cancer, you will take the pill. The fact that the pill is full of tiny robots is immaterial. It’s tiny robots or the grave. Easy choice.

    So we will self-evolve ourselves and there will be a divide between the uplifted and the authentics and the uplifted will head off for other planets and in this way, the meek shall inherit the Earth. Who is the winner in this scenario? What’s right and wrong? What’s the nanny state, and who gets to decide when the nannying is right and the nannying is wrong?

  2. Me says:

    Sometimes I feel a little tickle, but mostly you’d never know they were there.

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