Cinderellas Sweeping Cyber-Realities.
11 September - when
the world of computer and video games and celluloid simulations
became a pale imitation of all-too-real reality...
There can be few parents,
teachers and responsible people anywhere in the world NOT asking
about the realities of the world our children are inheriting,
and the role of media and technologies in dealing with that world
- mentally, emotionally, morally.
The hideous events
of recent weeks, and the nature of the media coverage, reminded
me of a chance remark at the end of a conversation with Carolyn
Coil in Good Teacher, Term 3 (see www.TheSchoolQuarterly.com,
Information Literacy Archive). We were talking about her concept
of kids as ‘Digitised Cinderellas’ and her observation about the
dissonance between ‘their’ world (including their cyberworlds)
and what they are required to do with technology in schools.
Is this dichotomy
new? There’s always been tension between the entertainment and
‘edutaintment/ infotainment’ purposes of media like television,
videos, CDs interactive videodiscs and now DVDs. Is this why each
technological ‘solution’ which was expected to revolutionise education
has failed to deliver? Is this why so many sensible educators,
themselves enthusiastic users and champions of learning technologies,
are asking hard questions about the educational gains demonstrated
after a decade of investment in technology and wiring and enough
hype and rhetoric to generate a completely false sense of educational
The ‘virtual reality’
of cyberworld is, in fact, not reality at all; it’s the ultimate
fiction in that it is multidimensional, multisensory; constructed
from the images, colour, sound and sensations of reality, not
Is there inherent
conflict in taking the tools and technologies of this world; the
tools and technologies which allow kids to create and explore,
participatively as well as interactively, their virtual and fantasy
realities, and asking them to use these same tools for school
What ARE these school
Are current school
purposes, dictated as they are by the curriculum, related to any
sort of reality - cyberreality, the reality of children’s lives
now, or the realities of their futures?
Can we divorce the
reality of their lives, and the purpose of schooling, from the
realities of the last few weeks?
has it that kids have seen so much screen-mediated violence and
horror that they must have become de-sensitised. Why else would
a group of teens, including a 12 year old, think that it was OK
to murder a man for a pizza?
There’s another perspective.
For our children the world is McLuhan’s Global Village. It’s a
technologically linked community where the images and accents
that populate our screens and children’s heads are international-USA-standard.
For children, far more than us, geographic boundaries and distance
have little relevance. I think many NZ children have felt the
11 September disaster almost as keenly as any American child.
This is their world. The games that they play with so much engagement
but that, deep down, they knew to be games, are suddenly reality.
That is terrifying - fiction has become non-fiction, fantasy has
become reality. It’s for real; people blow up buildings and Mums
and Dads go to work and don’t come home. It’s the ultimate betrayal
of childhood security and it’s on CNN 24 hours a day.
I’ve spent a professional
lifetime trying to address what we now call information literacy.
In recent years I’ve become more strident in my attempts to say
to teachers that information literacy has little to do with finding
information for ‘topics’ on the WWW or anywhere else, but a LOT
to do with teaching students to sift and synthesise vast quantities
of multi-media information with discrimination, to think through
the issues raised by the information and take responsibility for
applying knowledge with intelligence and integrity.
I still believe in
this, but maybe there’s a more immediately urgent need for a crusade
to help children mediate the multiple and complex realities of
their lives, to help them recognise that complex realities give
rise to complex problems which require complex and compassionate
responses. Why is it that I have been thinking this week of Susan
Cooper’s book ‘’The Dark is Rising’? It’s an old (in publishing
terms) but immensely powerful account of the confrontation of
good and evil. Maybe the message is a lot simpler. There are more
good than evil people in the world. Good people are everywhere.
They have different colour skins, different religions, different
language, different accents, different clothes, but deep down
they are good, not evil, and good people are inheriting the technology
as well as the earth.
I don’t know how schools
begin to help build the sophisticated, complex, values-driven,
deeply experienced reality-filters that children need. My response,
from my CNN-free generation is to turn off TV and web coverage,
and re-read Susan Cooper. An eye for an eye is no way to confront