This article, currently the most Emailed article at the New York Times, is
very disturbing. In the first three sentences we can see the problem:
"REDWOOD CITY, Calif. - On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal
Singh's life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?
By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished
the book, Kurt Vonnegut's 'Cat's Cradle', his summer reading assignment. But
he has managed 43 pages in two months."
It is disturbing for two different and opposite reasons. What is the problem
here? Multiple choice, choose one:
A. Vishal is so computer addicted that he cannot get his homework done.
B. Vishal's teacher asked him to read "Cat's Cradle".
If your answer is "A", congratulations, that is the "correct" answer and the
answer that all civilized people would give. But some of us answer "B".
I read the whole article and watched the video report a couple days ago. The
article is quite balanced in featuring this boy who is obsessed using his
computer on a film project using some very advanced software that he taught
himself to use but is getting very low scores in school.
I never read Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" before although a couple years
ago I tried to read "Slaughterhouse Five" and just couldn't get into it. If
a teacher's job is to stimulate the mind of the student to spark and equip
his creative ingenuity to face the unknown challenges and opportunities of
the future then I don't think forcing this kind of literature on him is the
way to do it. If the teacher's job is to drive, force, whip the student into
mindless submission to prepare them to be driven, forced and whipped by a
Dilbert-iquese type boss in a mindless job then this is a great way to do it
and this is very disturbing.
The principal, David Reilly, is pretty cool. He said he is not worried about
Vishal because Vishal is pursuing his dream of being a filmmaker. The
principal is "a former musician who says he sympathizes when young people
feel disenfranchised, is determined to engage these 21st-century students.
He has asked teachers to build Web sites to communicate with students,
introduced popular classes on using digital tools to record music, secured
funding for iPads to teach Mandarin and obtained $3 million in grants for a
In short, I think the principal would be a good candidate for Webhead
membership. Let's hope the teacher pushing "Cat's Cradle" can catch on.
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