The dumbing down of children

The state of education across the world

The dumbing down of children

Postby Gavin » 15 Sep 2012, 11:32

We are already discussing the topic of contemporary popular music, but here I thought I would attend to the matter of the dumbing down of children more specifically.

I happened to catch a little bit of children's TV this morning. It was a programme called "Skillicious" - so, a made-up word which no doubt the children now think is a real one.

Three youngsters came on the programme and proceeded to display their "freestyle football" skills. The three of them spent a few minutes kicking balls up and down, spinning them and so on. They were probably about 16 years old. Many of the children in the audience were younger.

The presenters were full of awe at these skills. It must have taken the youngsters hundreds of hours of practice to learn how to do something so utterly pointless. The boys added how they had had the honour of meeting Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard. I thought it was disgusting that these stupid activities were so much admired and encouraged by the programme, when producers should instead be encouraging children towards more intellectual pursuits. This nation is already overly obsessed with sport.

The other thing that struck me was how different the presenters are today compared with those when I was young. Back in the 80s we had people like Sarah Greene presenting Blue Peter (who spoke with excellent diction, by the way). Here's a picture of a more recent presenter, who was also the presenter of this children's programme, Skillicious:

Image

It was a bit odd seeing her surrounded by 8 year olds when it looked like she had just stepped out of a nightclub.

The programmes either side of this seemed to be full of hyperactivity too. They weren't gentle and thoughtful as they were in my childhood, what with The Wind in the Willows and Bagpuss. They were dumbed down.

It occurred to me that when we are teaching our children, through official channels, to be so stupid, it is little wonder that many grow up to be unpleasant and unproductive adults. Civilisation really is in reverse here in the UK.
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Rachel » 09 Jan 2013, 17:42

I can strongly relate to what Gavin said even though I live in a different country now and haven't seen the specific programs he is talking about.
The one thing that bothers me is today is modern children's cartoons. I know that many children's cartoons in my 80's childhood or even earlier were rubbish. (e.g The Flintstones, Top Cat, Scooby Doo, those badly drawn 1960's Hanna Barbara cartoons.)

But the modern ones have a kind of jerky irritating movement that did not exist and that deeply bothers and irritates me in a way I can not explain. For example here is my nephew's favourite cartoon: "Spongebob and Squarepants".


The jerky loudness really started with a 90's cartoon series called "Ren and Stimpy" supposidly aimed at teenagers. I was a teenager at the time and couldn't stand them even then.

A lot of children's cartoons are like Spongebob and if they are not then they are just identical Japanese drawn ones like Batman which aren't so bad.

I really love those cartoons made inbetween 1930 and the 1950's that were beautiful. There is one classic here that I think is a work of art. The 1939 cartoon "Peace on Earth" made by MGM. There was another remake of it made in the 50's which was also brilliant.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fAOIAGofDM

I wonder how with all the modern technical knowhow, the movement and animation in the old ones still seems better. I like the way that the movement and voices are more soothing and graceful like in this one or like in Walt Disney's Snow White, made in 1939.

In the end of the day, I notice my nephews are more into computer games then TV. I assume it's the same with other children too.
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Elliott » 20 Jan 2013, 00:22

Mayfield Library in Dalkeith (a town outside Edinburgh) is hoping to attract more customers by holding a special "Love your Library Day" in which there will be games of table tennis using books as bats. There will also be head massages and an "X-box challenge". And pole-dancing classes.

Bob Constable, Midlothian council's cabinet member for public services and leisure wrote:Love Your Library Day is a marvelous opportunity for us all to celebrate the hugely important role libraries play in the heart of our local community.

The pole fitness session is a fun and interesting way of encouraging more people into our libraries, trying out all the services on offer and ultimately borrowing more books.

But it's not just pole fitness on offer. I'm delighted to see such a wide range of free and exciting events organised to mark this special occasion.


Coverage: Telegraph, Guardian, Daily Mail.

This seems to me like craven surrender to the lowest of human drives, in a place that should be encouraging the higher ones. I am glad it will only be for one day, but even that is one day too many. There will actually be kids whose first memory of a book is using it to hit things with... how is this civilised? And as for pole-dancing classes in a library, it beggars belief.

But I shouldn't be surprised. The Scots are a peasant race and their (apparently inate) hatred of refinement is simply coming to the fore again.
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Caleb » 21 Jan 2013, 02:03

It would be hilarious if it weren't so sad.
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Elliott » 21 Jan 2013, 05:21

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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Gavin » 21 Jan 2013, 13:30

What an excellent video. Calm reason and pure sense from a rightly concerned man. One only has to glance at YouTube "like" statistics and at typical comments to see the truth of what he says.

Good to end with a message of encouragement, too. It is certainly true that even if the system lets students down, there is nothing to stop people educating themselves - today it is easier than ever. Personally I actually prefer to "self-educate" in almost all cases.
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Lindsey » 29 Sep 2013, 11:03

What a great video! And American, too. I don't know why that surprises me more than it should, perhaps because it's unusual to see Americans criticise their own education system and increasing intellectual decline.
I find it hard to imagine any of the greatest scientists or engineers appearing from western schools either, and these problems are not easy to turn around. I recall an article highlighting not just the decline in uptake of hard subjects like pure maths but the actual closure of departments whilst soft subjects like art and humanities continue to increase, despite the unemployment rate for these subjects being the highest! if we close courses then the damage is going to take years to unpick as those willing and capable must travel further, even abroad , to get a good education.
Here's a nice link spelling out the worst degrees compared to The best, I really wish they were upfront about these subjects before filling students heads with unrealistic ideas. http://education.yahoo.net/articles/dea ... egrees.htm. I'm surprised 'meeja studies' isn't on the list to be honest
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Elliott » 29 Oct 2013, 15:39

Today's dumbed down children are smart enough to know that they would have been better-served yesteryear.
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Alf » 06 Dec 2013, 22:46

I posted these on another thread and thought I should also include them in the Education tab. For me these two essays by John Taylor Gatto zero in on the problem:
Against School http://www.wesjones.com/gatto1.htm
and
The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher http://www.cantrip.org/gatto.html
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Mike » 07 Dec 2013, 03:21

Alf wrote:I posted these on another thread and thought I should also include them in the Education tab. For me these two essays by John Taylor Gatto zero in on the problem:
Against School http://www.wesjones.com/gatto1.htm
and
The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher http://www.cantrip.org/gatto.html


Well...I have to pipe up here.

The problem with so many of the unschooling advocates - John Taylor Gatto, Grace Llewellyn, and before them figures like Ivan Illich and John Holt - is twofold. Firstly, they have zero sense of historical perspective (let alone historical imagination); second, they see teacher-student relations solely in the sort of crude terms of power and control envisaged by the likes of Foucault.

As a result, their writings generally consist of a few grains of good sense inamongst a mountain of nonsense, and I'm afraid the articles you've linked to there are classic examples, and worth examining in some detail to expose the flaws in the arguments.

The first one:

Don't hide behind reading, writing, and arithmetic as a rationale, because 2 million happy homeschoolers have surely put that banal justification to rest. Even if they hadn't, a considerable number of well-known Americans never went through the twelve-year wringer our kids currently go through, and they turned out all right. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln? Someone taught them, to be sure, but they were not products of a school system, and not one of them was ever "graduated" from a secondary school. Throughout most of American history, kids generally didn't go to high school, yet the unschooled rose to be admirals, like Farragut; inventors, like Edison; captains of industry, like Carnegie and Rockefeller; writers, like Melville and Twain and Conrad; and even scholars, like Margaret Mead.


This is phony and misleading on a number of levels.

First of all: homeschoolers are a self-selecting group comprising a tiny, and utterly unrepresentative, proportion of the population: those whose parents have the leisure and the interest to take responsibility for their own children's education, not to mention (quite often) a sort of knee-jerk contempt for authority. In short: the educated, usually faux-radical middle-class. To generalise from that to the entire population as an argument against schooling as a means of acquiring basic literacy is just fatuous.

Secondly, all of his initial examples of un-schooled success were around far before universal education was the norm: in other words, they would probably have had far greater attention paid to their education by parents, whether that meant governesses, private tutoring, or anything else. And in any period of history, some people will rise to outstanding heights: does the fact that a few people did so in an era before universal education became commonplace stand as a mark against it? Again, the logic is completely fallacious.

Lastly, I wouldn't be surprised if some of his later examples clung to their "I never went to school" cries as a badge of pride even if it wasn't strictly true (I remember checking that with another of those lists provided by Grace Llewellyn (I think it was), and finding that in many cases the "self-taught" refrain was simply self-aggrandizement).

The quote from Mencken is hardly going to be disinterested given his (in-)famous libertarian leanings.

Now for the "Prussian" wheeze, which is perhaps the most common - and the most disingenuous - of all the unschooling arguments.

It is true that the first mass schooling system of the world was elaborated in Prussia. But the move towards universal schooling was well on the way to bearing fruit in other parts of Europe (and the world) by the mid-nineteenth century at any rate. And as for the aims of the education system:

...an educational system deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens - all in order to render the populace "manageable."


This is sheer emotive rubbish.

Whenever the word "Prussia" is invoked these days, it is to convey some connotation of proto-fascism, a military state which demanded obedience in all forms of life and in which the mass of the population was kept in grinding poverty and subservience. How was it in reality?

Prussia was, by and large, one of the most advanced nations, perhaps the most advanced nation, of its time. Research flourished, science advanced, standards of living skyrocketed (especially among the general population), and social mobility was probably considerably greater than in comparable European societies. By comparison with today, the military posturing and the relative stiffness of the society might seem off-putting, but that is in contrast to today, not to other mid-nineteenth-century cultures, which is the only relevant comparison. And the move towards mass education (which, as I've already stated, was already on the cards in most western nations) had far more to do with the growth of industrialisation rather than militarisation, for the obvious reason that skills and literacy would be required in the new industrialised world which would not have been taught on the farm or in the village. In other words, it was a logical response to social changes that were already happening, and to present it as purely a case of social control is grossly dishonest.

And even if mass schooling began in such a society, does any social institution reflect, throughout its history, its original purpose, context or form? Of course not. Jazz began as a music used in brothels. The internet began as a means of communication among the military. Only someone with very little sense of perspective would seek to denigrate them on these grounds.

I'll have to split this post into two parts...I've got plenty more to say on the topic but duties call me away for the moment.
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Mike » 07 Dec 2013, 04:27

To continue, then:

The vast majority of the works that Gatto quotes there to support his argument about the social control purpose of schooling are pre-war, as if the institution has barely changed since those days. But the great irony is that in presenting it as a method of keeping the downtrodden down, and reinforcing class distinctions, he misses a crucial point: most of those who elaborated the practice of mass education were socialist in outlook (he quotes Woodrow Wilson, for example). In other words, they believed in compulsory education as a means of doing away with class distinctions. Now they may have been wrong about that (as they were about so many things), but they got one thing right: the very best guarantee of a degree of social mobility within a society is a strong universal education system.

On this matter, it's worth considering: when did the most widespread class mobility in human history occur? The answer, of course, is in the period just following WW2, and I think it's a fair argument that the chief engine of that (apart from the lingering egalitarianism engendered by the war) was the education system, before it became poisoned.

And that leads me to my last point. So many of the things that Gatto complains about in that piece are attributable not to the institution of mass schooling itself, but to the complete breakdown in authority at schools that has occurred in the past fifty years. The dumbing down of the curriculum, the obsession with "relevance", the institution of infantile reward systems to prevent disorder are all attributable to it. In other words, I think he's right to be concerned with the state of education, but his indignation is pointed in the wrong direction.

One last comment. Following some more of his misleading arguments-from-celebrity, he says:

After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt.


This is such a seductive thing for a teacher to believe. But it's a big mistake.

A clever idea does not constitute genius. A neat analogy does not constitute genius. So, so many of the everyday moments that teachers treasure, when individual students rise above the ordinary, can be "inflated", so to speak. But this cheapens the whole idea of genius, and the massive task usually involved in translating a bright idea into something lasting and valuable, a task which often involves the intense acquisition of knowledge as well - the old 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration adage applies, although in my estimation it's more like 2% and 98%.

The reason so many teachers tend to believe it is that it flatters them. I know, because I often used to think so myself! But time teaches us many things, and one of the things it's taught me is that there's a huge gulf between an occasional moment of insight and the sustained development of such insights that we have come to call genius.
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Nathan » 02 Feb 2014, 19:15

I never thought I'd be glad to have grown up in the nineties. We might have had sports days when everyone got a trophy, female primary school teachers who quite openly disliked boys and Nelson Mandela shoe-horned into Religious Studies classes, but school assemblies in secondary school at least still had an impossibly old-school gown-wearing headmaster giving Bible readings which gave us an understanding of our own heritage - indeed, a recognition that we actually had one - and communal singing of hymns that you felt actually meant something and which had stood the test of time. No longer!

Stevie Wonder, Oprah and iPhones oust Jesus as topics of discussion at traditional Christian school assemblies

Documents obtained from local authorities under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws show that one secondary school, Acton High School in Ealing, included the ‘birth of the iPhone’, to highlight ‘communications’.


Another Ealing school, Featherstone High, last year used assemblies to mark International Day Against Homophobia and International Women’s Day, highlighting figures such as US First Lady Michelle Obama and television host Oprah Winfrey.


(Do I even need to ask why those two women in particular were highlighted, especially taking the example below into account?)

One school in North London, Norbury Primary, gave an example of an assembly during which the lyrics of the Stevie Wonder song Happy Birthday were explored.

A council spokesman said the song had been chosen for Martin Luther King Day because it had been composed to mark his birthday.


(Which country do we live in again?!)
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Elliott » 03 Feb 2014, 01:59

It really is terrible. Any white British kids at such schools will grow up with only a trivial sense of their own nation's identity.

The only "relief", possibly, is that a lot of the kids at these schools will not be traditional British kids, so they won't be missing out on anything.
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Paul » 03 Feb 2014, 21:40

Simply horrendous. It's scarcely believable.

As much as being glad one isn't at school today, I'm glad my own kids are no longer at school. And yet my son has started to display lefty tendencies too despite this. I blame the university!

Nathan - how you cling to small mercies (ok, a little more than small). I'm not meaning to discredit you of course, a schoolchild in the 90s but talk of equal sports days, boy-haters (really - how?) and Mandela-fests is bewildering enough.

But who really wants to go back to the 1950s? Post-war gloom, lower life-expectancy, still terrible childhood contagions, etc, etc. Almost no electronic technology. Or even the 1970s in many ways. How is it that the more advanced we have become on the one hand, the more stupid we have become on the other?
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Re: The dumbing down of children

Postby Paul » 03 Feb 2014, 22:46

You see, read this here.

It's actually good, it's a step in the right direction so one mustn't complain, but that's how far it's fallen.

Picking up litter, tidying classrooms and mopping floors. We had to do that anyway, not as a punishment, but as a duty. You can just perceive the hand-wringing in play now as thoughts of the return of such things is whispered.

As for weeding playgrounds and cleaning graffiti, you just know this will never happen now. Modern kids will lacerate themselves with garden implements and burn themselves with chemicals.

Writing 'lines': 'I must not talk in class' - 100 times, even 500 times. In your lunch hour, or even after school hours. I've seen that scores of times. I've been there!

Searched for knives on entering school. Knives! Good grief.
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