Screened out

Loss of language, says Wolfgang Grassl, is inevitably followed by loss of thought:

Surveys show that the average American receives some 5,000 external stimuli per day and spends more than eight hours a day in front of screens — television, computer monitors, cellphones, gaming consoles, and so on. Where in earlier ages people worked in their gardens, played an instrument, went fishing, read books, entertained guests, or engaged in conversation with family or friends, they have become passive and speechless consumers of canned content. These screens help produce a people that is losing its language. But more importantly, these people no longer see structures in their world but rather a bewildering juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated events. Vicarious living and proxy experiences are the deeper problem with our students’ loss of language.

Of course, not all students are alike: Many do excel and emerge as active thinkers and thoughtful speakers. But as a society, we are a far cry from seeing the critical thinking that progressive educators want to convey.

Being one of those old-school types, I work on canning my own content, or at least picking representative samples of other people’s content and giving it a twist. And I don’t think I’m at the point where I confuse experiences I’ve had with experiences I’ve merely heard about. Yet.

Besides, the current definition of “progressive” is utterly incompatible with the whole idea of critical thinking:

In order to think critically, one must be able to keep causes apart from effects, fact from interpretation, belief from knowledge, definitions from explanations, and much more. Critical thought requires determining the range of alternatives and applying to them a clear and consistent standard of evaluation.

But not only is such standard often amiss after years of indoctrination in relativism, even the range of alternatives is not clear.

If you’ve been on the receiving end of this indoctrination, “critical thinking” to you is nothing more than knowing when to nod your head in agreement, and when to vomit up the appropriate talking points in disagreement.

Remember that, between the Greeks and the Renaissance, the purpose of the artes liberales was defined, the list of subjects was closed, and the books to be read changed little. Of course, at the tertiary level of education, it may be too late to find remedies for the loss of language, unless universities want to be transformed into high schools. The work has to be done in the formative years of students — in their earlier teens. Forget the renaming of secondary-school “English” into “Language Arts.” We need exercises in spelling, grammar, style, speech, rhetoric, and the classics.

Not gonna happen. Too many people in positions of power who have no business being there might discover why they have no business being there, and the trauma might cause them great anguish, or worse, deprive them of the warm, the richly coloured, the infinitely friendly world of soma-holiday.

(Via Nicole. Interestingly, while we both linked to the very same article, there is no overlap between what I quoted and what she quoted — but you still need to Read The Whole Thing.)


  1. Nicole »

    6 July 2010 · 12:33 pm

    Good reference to soma-holiday. :)

    I think the fact that we both got something slightly different out of it goes toward showing what an excellent article it is.

  2. Charles Pergiel »

    8 July 2010 · 8:48 pm

    Seems to me that critical thinking is not in high demand. There might be a few spots where it is valued, but I don’t know of any. The powers that be want obediance and conformity. People who think are troublemakers. If you know how to think, don’t let anyone else know or you are liable to end up on the no-fly list, or worse.

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