Monday, November 1, 2010

Time Change

I am getting to that age where I find myself saying, “Times sure have changed!” I am learning to live happily with some of these changes.

Like .. .

  • Grocery sacks that have moved from paper to plastic to reusable
  • Paying all my bills without licking a single stamp or envelope
  • The ability to carry every music recording I own with me at all times thanks to my iPod
  • Pets can be micro chipped so that should they get lost, they can be reunited with their rightful owner
  • Google, Amazon, and
  • Blogs
  • Debit cards
  • Post-it notes
  • K-cups

Then there are those things that I really don’t like . . .

  • Pre-packaged food
  • The fact that it is nearly impossible to reach a human being when telephoning a business
  • Email and texting as a primary means of communication
  • Online textbooks and college classes that are 100% online
  • The opinion that making things yourself is an anomaly
  • The notion that bigger is always better
  • Multitasking
  • Web-cams
  • Junk mail

As we would expect, many of these “advancements” have caused changes in our educational process. Kids just don’t need to be taught the same things that we were taught “back in the olden days.” Girls don’t need to take home economics anymore because they don’t need to know how to sew or cook. As far as they are concerned, cakes come from boxes and bread comes from a plastic sack. Fried chicken comes from KFC and vegetables are transported frozen from the North Pole by the Jolly Green Giant.

And make clothing? That requires knowing things like the difference between lycra and linen, what is fusible interfacing, and the meaning of bias. It also means accepting the fact that the tape measure never lies. Why spend time teaching these things when some form of clothing is available almost everywhere you go and for much less money than it would cost to make it from scratch.

Schools don’t teach typing anymore; they teach keyboarding, a skill that is a little different. Typing on the computer, or keyboarding, doesn’t carry with it a love-hate relationship with carbon paper and correction tape or the hard fact that some mistakes can’t be corrected and you may just have to start over.

And then there’s penmanship . . .Does anyone learn penmanship anymore? Based on what I have seen from my own students, I don’t think so. Children no longer learn how to form all those perfectly proportioned loops and lines that result in cursive handwriting. No more do they have to work to perfect their writing skills to achieve the honor of being allowed to write with an ink pen in class. These days we are lucky if students come to class with any kind of writing utensil.

The prevailing wisdom is that students don’t need to worry about legible handwriting because everything is now typed – or is that keyboarded? Very rarely do people send handwritten notes or letters or even invitations. With texting, email and Evites at our fingertips, why waste time and energy to write a letter and then have to wait for it to be delivered via snail mail? In an era where our motto is “time is money,” such a means of communication is obviously inefficient and old fashioned.

I wonder what the study of historical documents will look like two hundred years from now. Will the rare book rooms in libraries just be walls of encased hard drives that can’t be accessed because their technology is antiquated? For that matter, will libraries as we know them even exist? Research skills that require using a card catalog and actually putting your hands on a real book are another thing that is disappearing from the educational process thanks to the Internet. The Internet is a primary source, right?

And here’s another question. Is it really necessary for children to learn how to read a clock, one with hands and a face? Aren’t most of our time telling devices now digital – our microwaves, DVD players, computers, cell phones, cars, oven timers, and alarm clocks? Every now and then you will see an “old-time” (no pun intended) clock in a public place, but how many people really look at them? We are all looking at our cell phones and iPads, which, in this digital age, will supply us with the time – digitally.

The ability to tell time by reading the hands on a clock used to be an integral part of our human knowledge. I can remember all through elementary school doing worksheets to hone this essential skill. Such is not the case any longer. Many children view hands on a clock in the same light in which they view a dial on a telephone – “What in the world are you talking about?”

Recently I was talking with a friend whose mother is in her seventies and is experiencing problems with memory loss. He took her to the doctor to be evaluated to see if she is entering the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. One of the tasks that the doctor asked her to perform in this evaluation was to draw the numbers on a clock, presumably because this is a deeply ingrained skill. There is perhaps only one or two more generations for whom this is truly the case. What will Alzheimer’s tests look like for the children of today?

When today's youth has become senior citizens and are being tested for memory issues will they be asked to draw the layout of a TV remote? Respond to questions using only text speak? Give instructions for how to use the microwave to make popcorn? Recite their credit card number – including the 3-digit security code? Articulate how to order properly a medium cafĂ© mocha with an extra shot, skim milk, and no whipped cream at Starbuck’s?

There are some scary times ahead!

Right now, I have until the big hand is on the three and the little hand is on the four to use my favorite fountain pen to write a heartfelt letter to the one I love while sitting in the library amidst shelves of books. I am going to take advantage of this situation before it is too late!