(Written 27 Nov 2010)
Dear All,
I think a letter on the question of whether youngsters are being ‘wired for distraction’ (see below) would be a fine thing. Of course it has to be admitted that there is presently insufficient research data to show that what the NY Times article is suggesting is true, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is a potential problem that we should consider seriously.
What is unquestioned is that for an individual to achieve meaningful intellectual growth there has to be a degree of cognitive “sense-making” that goes beyond the normal (mostly superficial) observation and interaction we experience in our daily lives. A person wishing to make scholarly progress has to spent the requisite time applying their mind to whatever they are studying. As Isaac Newton had it, “If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been due more to patient attention, than to any other talent”. It is also important to note that this “sense-making” process is entirely idiosyncratic… the learner has to work it out for him or herself. Learning is not a spectator sport! Watching the game at the JK Oval cannot make turn an enthusiast into a 1st-team player; just so, watching a teacher translate a phrase (from Latin of course), balance an account, or find a solution to an equation, cannot earn a pupil a place at a university.
It is left for parents to ask themselves if their children are being given the best opportunity to develop the skill of applying their mind to a question of study. Or are the gadgets that have been lovingly presented to their offspring – to give them instant access to social websites, movies and music – going to turn out to be Trojan horses?