Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Open Letter to Parents of the Next Generation -- What Our Kids Might Need...

Most of our kids will spend hours each day heads bowed to electronic devices, will spend more hours playing games while sitting down than running around outside, will have more access to information than any culture known to man, will be inundated with social media, will be constantly asked for their feedback from a needy advertising world, and will likely ask for a lot of feedback in return and, oh, will one day be our leaders ... 

My thought is that the herd mentality is stronger than ever. Yes, we're all connected. But that connection makes a massive herd. While technology will overdevelop our children in certain ways and technology will democratize many things that once contributed to a tiered culture, it will also lead to underdevelopment in other areas.

More broadly, I've been wondering what skills will be in high demand for the next generation. What can we  value in our homes to prepare our children for a world that will need their expertise -- to further us all in thought, innovation, skill, feats of imagination....

It's been written that this next generation excels at things like collaboration if they also might struggle with patience and crave positive feedback (helicopter parents on hover mode). So, as a parent, my thought is: don't sweat teaching collaboration. It's box is checked by our culture. (And I have four kids so collaboration is part of the daily fabric...) As for positive feedback, I talk to my kids about those participation medals. We look at them critically, suspiciously in fact. (My kids can spot condescension at twenty paces.) I also downplay the importance of grades -- feedback in general -- until high school, where they have some consequence. Grades versus the experience of learning -- I pick B.  

To get as specific as possible, I've come to the words insulation and depth.

With stuff like Google-Glasses coming at us -- http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/how-googles-glasses-will-disrupt-everything (how is that not a million walking lawsuits?) -- I think that insulation will be key for our children. How to tune out of the noisy conversation broadcast at us via social media. Edison always promised to come up with a hearing aid for the deaf, but was noted for seeing great benefits to his own hearing problems -- to mute the world, to think better, more deeply.

Facebook and Twitter have me thinking that we've entered the AGE OF EVERYONE-AS-COMMENTATOR. We're all buzzing, but if we all see ourselves as commentators -- each of us having a valuable opinion -- then we're spending too much of our time there and we have a shrinking number of people who are doing things worth buzzing about.

If you can insulate yourself from the noise and chatter, you can go deep -- think the long thoughts, let them wind and turn, dream them and wake with them. That's going to be necessary.

I also think that we live in the AGE OF SKIMMING; a necessary skill as so much information is thrown at us. In this case, we will need depth of thought.

This might sound like commonsense. But actively teaching our children to insulate because they will experience truly valuable depth of thought is something we have to do in earnest; it's actually quite new. It's something that the herd is incapable of and it's of real value.

As summer approaches, I have the impulse to make up for the lost time of rote education. I'm happy that my kids attend schools that shy from rote, but it's still in there; and there's a necessity to cover a variety of topics -- to skim the world view, but summer offers the freedom to go deep. I want my children to engage in the things that they truly love, to follow their natural curiosity about the world around them and fall into some kind of study, some kind of making, some kind of invention...

How? I don't think the answer is more herding -- a.k.a. summer camp. I'm a firm believer in the burden of boredom; and how, with some goals, it can force kids to be inventive. My four kids will do one "camp" each, a maximum of two weeks total. But the main rules of summer are no screen time until after 3pm, and the creation of summer plans that they devise and we can help support.

Goals. Insulation. Depth. Something to show for it.

Here's the hard part: How do we teach our children to mute the noise of technology? How do we model insulation and going deep?

The way we have to do everything, it seems.

Model it.