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Technology, Decline, & Our Brains

A reader writes on the Problem With Public Schools Is Often The Public thread:

A very interesting discussion. Here some personal observations. Let me state that I am a wilderness tour guide in a third world country with small groups. For some reason or another I have teachers from all over the world among my clients. I spent hours taking to them and I believe we are facing a world wide crisis not only an American one. I believe though that in America it is the worst and it has something to do with American culture. But before I elaborate here a few stories that have stuck in my mind:

– PE teacher from Boulder CO. Great guy, lovely character a real role model if there ever was one. He tells how kids from affluent!!! families don´t even have eaten breakfast when they come to school. Why not? To stressful for the parents no time. In that particular third world country that was unheard of. My partner guide who is a local PE teacher couldn´t believe it. No matter how poor the parents no mother lets her kid go to school without breakfast. Our customer from Boulder also told us how he asks all his kids with ADD how much TV they watch and how much sport they do. I believe you don´t need to know the answer.

Anyhow our customer had been transferred from his school to another one after he had tried to reign in the sale of junk food in his school and the fact that fast food companies are allowed to advertise freely on school grounds.

— Nurse from London. Mid fifties. Shocking tales of families without dinner tables!!! Tales of ever lowering nutritional standards. Diabetes in kids a.s.o.

—- PE teacher from Germany. Sad tales of kids who can´t climb ropes, can´t do push ups, believe themselves entitled, love “chilling out” instead of being active. Really unbelievable tales of decreasing physical standards. But unfortunately alll to true as I heard from other teachers. Tells how the high tech companies in the South can´t find good apprentices anymore as kids can´t concentrate-

I could cite yet a lot more examples. I believe that is what we get if we let the minds of our young be colonized by money seeking corporations. TV and visual entertainment are to culture what fast food is to food. It is not only an American problem but a world wide one. America is just the country which is furthest down that particular trek.

Another observation from talking to teachers and also from living in that particular third world country: nothing is going to work without respect. And there´s no respect for teachers in the West or very little. But a good teacher is almost a wizard. Teaching is as much talent as skill. It is crazy to believe you can mikromanage teaching as they seem to believe in many parts of the US. (And increasingly in Western Europe as well) It is deeply interpersonal and somebody above has written about Haiti. Same true for my third world country. People have no money, teachers get very bad salaries and schools are lacking all kinds of materials. Still they learn more than in the US, the Netherlands and Germany. (That is what I heard from young natives returning from thoese countries) And why?

First and foremost because teachers are still honoured and derive personal satisfaction from their “vocation”. Yes vocation. And then because people still live in a physical reality and not in some electronically created fictional world where daddy state takes care of the fast food.

I believe it will take nothing less than a revolution to turn things around. For the sake of our children food and culture needs to be taken out of the hands of profit oriented corporations. But we will also need to affect a revolution in values. We will need to throw out all that 60s counterculture crap and return to the values that have served mankind since times immortal. As there are respect for elders, clear orientation for kids (no gay marriage and assorted nonsense), sexual modesty and all those other old fashioned conservative values. Our believe that we can be anything and can do anything is only an illusion. Life is not some TV series or some Internet role playing. We are still foremost physical beings and need to acknowledge the existence of god. Everything follows from that.

Let me encourage everyone to refrain from seizing on the reader’s gay marriage remark as a reason to avoid taking anything else he has to say seriously. Just don’t let’s go there. I’m not going to let the thread go off in that direction, so be forewarned.

I don’t fully agree with the reader that this is a matter of corporations compelling parents to live this way. I wouldn’t say corporations are guiltless, but the primary responsibility here must be borne by the people who demand and consume this stuff. That is, us.

This post brought to mind something that occurred to me the other night at bedtime. I was trying to read a novel, but couldn’t get into it, even though I was interested in the writing and the ideas. Trying to get into it felt like trying to land a plane, but not being able to touch down on the runway, or trying to fall asleep, but struggling with insomnia. I couldn’t get my mind to settle down enough to sustain concentration on the text.

I put the novel down, picked up my laptop, and fooled around online for a while. Then it occurred to me that this is a physiological response. Spending all day online, in that environment, has trained my mind and body to be frustrated when I ask myself to focus on a particular task for any length of time. I get the heebie-jeebies. Getting back online calms me.

This is a deformation. This is disordered.

A thought: could this be a deeper implication within Emily Witt’s linking of the deadening culture of porn and Google? That the mediated way many of us experience reality these days — through electronic media, especially online — conditions our brains to see constant stimulation as normative? Compared to most parents, we limit the exposure our kids have to electronic media, but during Lent, we put our kids on an electronic media fast. No TV, no electronic games, no nothing. We noticed much better behavior, especially in the child of ours who is most into video games.

I’m not making a moral point here. I’m making a physiological one, but one with moral implications.

We are forgetting how to be quiet in our minds, and still in our souls. It’s a form of environmental poison, isn’t it?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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