Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ignorance Hardly Bliss: Internet's Not The Media's Salvation On College Campuses

That Students Wall Themselves Off From The News Continuation of a Sad Story That Has Media Crying More Than Crocodile Tears

Caught up yesterday to a piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education by former Washington Post scribe Ted Gup, who told of how his students are a collective bunch of dullards when it comes to knowing about the world around them.

Despite their BlackBerrys, cellphones, and Wi-Fi, they are, in their own way, as isolated as the remote tribes of New Guinea. They disprove the notion that technology fosters engagement, that connectivity and community are synonymous. I despair to think that this is the generation brought up under the banner of "No Child Left Behind." What I see is the specter of an entire generation left behind and left out.

Gup mentions how most students in some of his classes couldn't cite what country Kabul was in, name the U.S. Secretary of Defense, or define rendition. Despite that, Gup labels his students collectively as "earnest, readily educable, and, when informed, impassioned."
Not sure when that would actually be applicable, under the circumstances, but still I know how he feels.
When I was a graduate student at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University in 1983, I was a teaching assistant for a mandatory introductory course on communications. Part of my job was to administer a current-events quiz two or three times a semester.
Like Gup, my test was the equivalent of a dumbed-down version of the news of the day. But for many supposed future communications pros, not dumb enough.
To wit: During a week when King Hussein was in Washington meeting with President Reagan, I asked what country did he rule over. Only about 10 percent of the 70 students in the class answered correctly, with several telling me he was the king of Israel.
On another quiz, I asked who was the vice president. Several informed me it was Jimmy Carter.
Yet somehow they got into college, not to mention a high school diploma.
So, this might be news to Gup, but his cautionary tale is one that has had intractable roots in the hallways of academia far too long.
For those of us like myself who grew up in homes that received at least two newspapers daily, the thought of not knowing such basic facts is not only anathema but utterly incomprehensible.
No more, as Gup demonstrates. His students not only don't read newspapers, but they grew up with parents who didn't subscribe to one either.
Which may be the biggest reason why newspapers are in such dire straits today. Forget the Internet. Today's generation isn't just migrating away from print media, they're turning away from any meaningful engagement in the world around them and no one is encouraging them to do otherwise.
It's a sad story, and one that needs to be rewritten in a hurry.

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