We’ve juiced up the entirely artificial copyright laws of the world to the point that if libraries weren’t already a centuries-old cultural institution, there’s no chance they’d ever be able to come into existence today.
But there may be hope for the humble globe. Bound atlases have stood up to digital encroachment much better than encyclopedias, because no screen can yet duplicate the tactile, immersive experience of exploring the Earth via paper maps. Globes have the same advantage, only in three dimensions.
I’ve been typing these last few paragraphs amid constant interruptions from my 4-year-old daughter, who can’t keep her hands off the globe at my side. “Are these mountains?” she wants to know, rubbing her fingers over the relief of the Andes. “Why does this red line stay in the same place when I spin the world?” she asks about the equator.
Consensus is growing that young adults aren’t being taught the basic skills that lead to critical thinking.
Most universities don’t require the courses considered core educational subjects — math, science, foreign languages at the intermediate level, U.S government or history, composition, literature, and economics.
The nonprofit American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has rated schools according to how many of the core subjects are required. A review of more than 1,000 colleges and universities found that 29 percent of schools require two or fewer subjects. Only 5 percent require economics. Less than 20 percent require U.S. government or history.
A survey by the Jenkins Group, an independent publishing services firm, has shown that millions of Americans never read another book after leaving school.
- 33 percent of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
- 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
- 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
- 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
- 57 percent of new books are not read to completion
Here’s what I commonly observe: the students who struggle in technical courses are those who skip the insight-developing phase. They capture concepts in their notes and they study by reproducing their notes. Then, when they sit down for the exam and are faced with problems that apply the ideas in novel ways, they have no idea what to do. They panic. They do poorly. They proclaim that they are “not math people.” They switch to a philosophy major.
Without insight you can’t do well.
Maushart decided to unplug the family because the kids — ages 14, 15 and 18 when she started The Experiment — didn't just "use media," as she put it. They "inhabited" media. "They don't remember a time before e-mail, or instant messaging, or Google," she wrote.
Maushart wrote that her kids "awoke slowly from the state of cognitus interruptus that had characterized many of their waking hours to become more focused logical thinkers."
Education was once understood as training for freedom. Not merely the transmission of information, education entailed the formation of manners and taste. Aristotle thought we should be raised "so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that we ought; this is the right education."
"Plato before him," writes C. S. Lewis, "had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful."
This kind of training goes against the grain, and who has time for that?
One obvious problem with the philosophy of [making education appealing by aiming low] is that it is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn't go very far.
Researchers have in recent years scaled back their estimates of the influence genetics plays in intelligence differences. The previous figure of 80 percent is outdated. Nisbett says that if you take social differences into account, you would find "50 percent to be the maximum contribution of genetics." That leaves an unexpectedly large proportion of a child's intelligence for parents, teachers and educators to shape.
Psychologists have discovered that some of the most hallowed advice on study habits is flat wrong. For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.
The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.
“What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting,” said Dr. Bjork, the senior author of the two-room experiment.
Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time.