Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Scholars or Customers?

Scholars or Customers?; Houston, Texas
October 16, 2012
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Diane Senechal, Ph.D., has written a book (The Republic of Noise—2012) about the virtues of solitude for young people living in our mad, mad, Wireless World.

I fear she may be insufficiently aware that every moment one of our high school students spends in reflection, musing, thinking, contemplation, meditation or indeed in solitude, unless those moments are product-focused, can grow, over time, into a huge barrier to sales of computers, software, games, and other products of our marketing efforts in educational technology. After all, the business of education is business, right?

To put it plainly, thinking, and other sorts of reflection, constitute a serious threat to all efforts to meet hardware/software sales quotas, especially in the huge and growingly lucrative education market.

This should make it clearer why the companies which are the commercial engines of our economy, especially the technology companies which are concentrating on education for a large portion of their consumer marketing and sales, are so opposed to having students read actual nonfiction books or spend time working on history research papers while they are in high school.

While it is true that having students read one or more complete history books while they are still in high school may not only teach them some history, but will also help them to get ready for the nonfiction books they will be asked to read in college, and that any work they do in high school on serious history research papers will better prepare them for college writing tasks, it must be borne in mind that both of those activities can seriously cut into their use of social media and associated products, and limit the time they will spend buying and using video games and other important products!

We have to decide if we want our high school students to be scholars or customers! Apple Computer did not spend $650 million or thereabouts to persuade our students to read books and write papers to further their education, but instead to buy iPhones and iMacs to help distract them from homework and other obstacles to buying products. As Mark Bauerlein noted in The Dumbest Generation, one sign in an Apple store promised that the MacBook would be “the only book you will ever need.”

There has been attention recently given to the disadvantages of colleges inflating grades and doing other things in their attempts to attract paying customers, because treating students as customers interferes with the essential responsibility of Upper Education to serve and challenge them as students.

But even in Lower Education, the multi-multi-billion-dollar market in digital equipment and software has employed major efforts to induce students to spend 53 hours a week with electronic entertainment media, according to the Kaiser Foundation, while most of them spend no more than 3 or 4 hours a week on homework.

There are always a few people who don’t get the Word to
dumb it down!! Since 1968, the International Baccalaureate Program has required a 4,000-word (16-page) Extended Essay for candidates for the Diploma, and that may very well have resulted in some students reading complete nonfiction books.

In addition, the Advanced Placement Program of the College Board, while it has not yet managed to include a serious term paper (a small pilot experiment is now underway), nevertheless has not exiled some teachers who go ahead and assign them anyway, a good number of which have been published in The Concord Review since 1987. In fact a special issue of AP history essays was published by The Concord Review in 1995, and this issue is available on the website at But those teachers (and students) have always been outside the mainstream with their efforts.

A few high school students, in some cases inspired by the exemplary work of their peers published in The Concord Review have worked to read for and write their serious history term papers as independent studies, some ranging from 8,000 words (32 pages) up to 15,000 words (60 pages), but with no encouragement from the electronic entertainment, computer/software, and STEM communities, these scholarly “mountaineers
  have not been numerous over the years.

If we continue to value hardware and software sales over education for our students, we will sell a lot of products, but we will also naturally continue to have students in need of extensive remediation, and to produce unemployable graduates. However, if we decide to relax our visa barriers for skilled immigrants, we may continue to count on them to carry our civilization forward or at least keep it going by making use of the benefits they bring with them from the non-commercial educations still available in other countries in South Asia, East Asia, and elsewhere.

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