Monday, April 8, 2013

Throwing Kids Under the Bus

I sort of have a criteria level set for when I feel like blogging about something controversial.  If it just bugs me for a few minutes then I forget about it, it wasn't worth the time it would take to properly address it.  If however, it bugs me all day, and I can't stop thinking about it, it's probably something I need to write about - more to get it off my chest than for any other reason.  This is one of those "it's been bugging me all day" subjects.  So, here we go.

Q: how do you engage a young person (under the age of 20)  in a supportive and encouraging way, to learn about (or instill a curiosity about) important people in history?

A: You go on twitter, and with load of profanity and vulgarity and insults, mockery and various other types of disparaging comments, you throw them all under the bus for not knowing who someone is.

Right?  Isn't that the way social media & modern communication is supposed to work?

Obviously I'm being sarcastic but that's exactly what happened today.  Short story even shorter:

With the news of the passing of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, pop star Harry Styles of the band One Direction posted a tweet that simply said "RIP Baroness Thatcher".  As a result, many of his followers were confused, not knowing who he was referring to.  As a result of that, all kinds of people jumped on the bandwagon of "lets trash talk young people".  I don't really know how much of the trash talking went down today, but I saw numerous links to this twitter user, that FB person, this blog, that blog and some other site - all commenting on the same thing.  I only read a handful before I became really annoyed.  When I'd read a few of these nasty tweets towards Harry Style's followers I simply tweeted myself  "Is anyone really surprised that so many young people don't know who Margaret Thatcher was? I mean, seriously?"

Twitter doesn't bode well for expounding so this is where I'll do that. First, let's think for a moment about the age group of the followers of a boy-band pop star. In this case, the age range is probably from roughly 11 to 15. Now, given that information, let's ask ourselves if we seriously, honestly expect most 11-15 year olds to know who an 87 year old former Prime Minister is, who hasn't been PM since before they were ever born. How many of them even know what a Baroness is? Given the way the tweet was worded "Baroness Thatcher", is it really so much of a stretch to understand why so many of them didn't know who Harry Styles was referring to? As you think about these questions, please bear in mind these are kids, who are following pop stars on twitter - they're not adults who are yet well informed on world matters, politics and the like.

Granted, it would be nice (and I'm sure all homeschooling moms, history & social studies teachers everywhere would agree) if all kids that age knew exactly who was being referred to in that tweet today but it's just not the reality of our world, for about a million different reasons that all fall under the umbrella of "distractions". The more distractions anyone has (young or old) the less they're able to receive, process and really digest information. This isn't breaking news, there've been all kinds of studies on this done over the years - most of which - come down hard on the side of less distractions = better for you.

The more I thought about this today the more I couldn't help comparing what an average day is like today, for a 14 year old kid, compared to what an average day was like for me at 14. It wasn't really all that long ago (okay maybe it was, it was 1979) but there's been a massive change in society that makes everything different.

So, a generation ago, what was an average day like for a 14 year old kid after school, homework and daily chores around the house? For the most part, our "distractions" were watching tv, talking on the phone, hanging out with friends, and sports. That was pretty much it for most of us.

Compare that to today. After school and homework and chores, what's distracting our kids? Well, the same things that distracted us, PLUS, texting, tweeting, FB'ing, instagram, tumblr, skype, facetime, youtube, chat (various forms), gaming (various forms) and about a half a million other forms of electronic distractions, most of which are 100% useless time-suckers with no redeeming value or educational benefit at all.

This is not to let kids off the hook, so to speak, it's just the way it is. A huge part of that lays squarely at the feet of parents to limit how much e-blather is going into their kids brains. Good parents, attentive parents, "there" parents are trying hard to do that already - but there's lots of parents out there that just... don't.

So I said all that to simply say, it's just not fair to throw these kids under the bus for not knowing who "Baroness Thatcher" was. They live in a totally different world than we (their parents) did. Just to see for myself, I asked my 4 kids (ages 9-15) at dinner tonight "which one of you know who Margaret Thatcher is?" My 9 year old was completely honest and said "I have no idea who that is". She's 9, I don't expect her to know who that is. All the others said her name was familiar but they weren't sure who she was, so I told them. Then a couple of them had light bulbs go on ever their heads and said "yeah, now that you say that, I knew that".

I don't want my kids to have their brains stuffed full with e-blather, to the point they can't even tell you who someone in history was - even if it's fairly recent history. But even if one of them did post a comment online that exposed their ignorance, I sure wouldn't want a bunch of adults (yes, adults) making them feel like utter garbage because they didn't know.  

To me, folks doing that are more ignorant than the kids who didn't know who Baroness Thatcher was.