Monday, March 27, 2006

Buried in information we can't use: how to get out

The more people are reached by mass communication, the less they communicate with each other.
- Marya Mannes, writer (1904-1990)

This quote seems to place a measure of blame on forms of mass communication for the decrease in the amount of real communication among us. This is akin to blaming the sun for the weather being too hot.

Mass communication media bring large amounts of information to us, which should allow us to do something with it. However, we don't do any more with the large volume of information available to us now than we did when the volume was small in the past.

We don't know how to deal with it. We haven't been taught to cope with a large amount of information input.

Our education systems were designed in the 19th century, when kids needed to stop playing and learn a few of the basics that would get them through life. Any curiosity they had was blunted so that this basic information could be conveyed and skills taught.

Now we have far more information and children remain in school longer. In fact, education has become a lifelong endeavour. But we haven't overcome the truncation of childhood curiosity in the early years of school or preschool.

Without curiosity, people have little desire to learn vast amounts of new information. It's available, but so what?

They also don't have the skils to deal with it in a useful way. What should they do, write an essay on what they have learned? Run next door to inform their neighbour? Use time on free access television to redisseminate what they have learned?

They don't know what ot do with what they have. Consequently, most people avoid soaking up the new information. They don't have to dust and clean clutter in their heads, but they would have to sort it and organize it regularly. For what?

21st century education systems need to rethink their whole purpose and methods of teaching. Without this, a few people become knowledge rich while the vast majority become anxiety prone, shaking their fists at the world for putting them in such an untenable situation.

The feeling is like starving while in a hopper filled with grain, but the hopper is loading the grain onto a belt where it will be taken to be ground up.

How should school systems choose a limited amount of information to teach children and young adults when new information (some of it contrary to what was valid just yesterday) arrives faster than the old information can be taught?

We don't need more information to be dished out at us at an increasing rate. We need skills to be able to cope with that and other problems that arise in our lives faster than we can manage.

We don't need more information from schools. That comes in more digestible forms from other sources now. We need to be taught how to cope with lifestyles that are routine around the world today but have never before existed in history.

While our students learn about trigonometry, English literature and the Great Rift in Southern Africa, they can't cope with the changes in their personal lives. So they take drugs and alcohol, drive fast, dress in shocking ways, swear at their teachers, beat each other up and sell the film of it on eBay.

While we watch it all happening, shaking our heads with Tsk! Tsk!, we do nothing. And it all gets worse.

Now you know something can be done. Don't shake your head and Tsk! Read Turning It Around and tell others about it so we can make the necessary changes collectively.

The world is waiting to see what you will do. Because you know the answers, you have the solutions. You have the book they know nothing about.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to show the path through progressively darker days.
Learn more at

No comments: