Saturday, August 19, 2006

Getting much?

"Most people are willing to pay more to be amused than to be educated."
- Robert C Savage

While the value of this quotation would seem to be self evident, there are those who would dispute it.

The problem is not with what amuses people, but what educates them. Other than formal education that takes place in classrooms, a possibly anachronistic practice given the degree of functional illiteracy that pervades western society--some studies have shown functional illiteracy just over 50 percent for seniors and around 45 percent among adults younger than age 65--what constitutes an activity that is clearly educational? Or not?

Is playing video games an educational pursuit, for example?

Studies have shown that teenagers who play video games regularly have higher mental acuity and better eye-hand coordination than those that do not. Even seniors who have been taught to play video games have demonstrated improvement in their mental acuity, the long term benefits of which could be avoiding senility and warding off Alzheimer's disease.

Does riding a horse constitute an educational activity? Or driving to and from work in your car? Not only is there skill in riding a horse, but the rider may learn a great deal about a non-human animal of nature in the periods before, during and after the rides. Many people use their car radios to update themselves with the news, to educate themselves through taped or CD books, and every driver learns road skills that cannot be taught in classrooms.

The point here is not to disagree with Savage's quotation, but to point out that to adopt its validity at face value may be to underestimate the value of other activities that are not usually associated with education.

One unintended motivation within the quote may be that we should examine the educative value of amusement activites to see if they generate any benefits. Most amusement activities that people pay for have little or no educative value, though some people may derive educational benefits from anything they do.

Perhaps one way of deciding if an activity has any real educational value would be to examine if people doing it are escaping from something or escaping to something. Those who pursue an activity as a release from the stress of something else--such as escape from a job or a tense home life--may learn little from a given activity, whereas someone who consciously chooses the activity may be more mentally prepared to learn something while doing it.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to help people choose escapes to activites that will benefit them.
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