November 21, 2002
Old Education versus the New Media

This from John Ray:

I did a post on October 24th in which I noted the great rise in average IQ that has happened in the last 100 years. I attributed it in part to the greater stimulation young brains now receive from modern entertainment media -- television and computer games in particular. Both have of course long been treated as evils by many of our professionally wise people -- who would keep kids away from both if they could.

I am pleased to see therefore that a new research report has just come out confirming what I said. Far from holding kids back, TV and computer games greatly improve their intelligence. The killjoys still mutter and grumble of course but I am happy to say that my very bright and creative son was always allowed to play as many computer games as he liked.

I've been putting somewhat schizophrenic-seeming stuff here about how children should (a) not be coerced into attending school by governments, or for that matter by their parents, but (b) not be watching TV all the time, on account it stunts their education.

Allow me to (thesise antithesise) synthesise. I do think that TV, and now computers, have seriously deranged "education", if by education you mean the old command-and-control Prussian system. TV does this to the old system of education precisely because it supplies an alternative and in many ways better – certainly more amusing and less boring – education. (Lars, commenting on this, took me to task for not getting this, but I do, I do.)

The long term answer is: freedom for children, just as the long term answer has already been freedom for non-aristocrats, freedom for non-whites, freedom for non-men. Like Lars says, children should be allowed to pursue their own interests, and that way they'll contrive a first-rate education for themselves, integrating the old technology with the new.

My problem is this. If the only choice facing a child is (a) a well-administered "Prussian" education, kind but firm, which provides a not-too-bad education, or (b) a deranged and chaotic and/or hysterically fascist version of the same, then (a) sounds better to me than (b). And for most children now, those are the choices. Freedom for children, for most children, given the parents they now have, is not a plausible next step; it's parallel universe stuff.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:06 AM
Category: Technology