LSS: Looking for neutral

Teaching sixth graders this year has been an education.
Likely, every adult generation has had certain thoughts about adolescents of the day. Keeping in mind the time-honored tradition of making less-than-generous observations about the young, I’ve tried to
stay objective about my students’ (and my sixth-grade daughter’s) strengths and weaknesses.
Access to media and technology has been a boon and a bust for many of my students – as well as for my own children. This generation of adolescents has grown up with their thumbs steadily
navigating the buttons of a Nintendo DS. The games are action-packed, fun, mind-numbing and make me think, “If I just try one more time, I’ll get it.” Eventually though, reality calls and I must tend to rice that’s boiling, clothes wrinkling or dust bunnies playing hopscotch under the sofa. Though I understand the
games’ powers, my Nintendo DS moments have been few and far between.
Yet, I know why the games are so effective. Super-thumbed twenty-something Mensas are sitting on easy chairs in Northern California and at desks in Tokyo perfecting each and every move possible. The games are faultlessly designed, and few in this generation of adolescents has ever taken a car trip or waited in a
doctor’s office without some techno-gadget to pacify their minds and keep them entertained.
Additionally, they’ve never known life without cell phones. Most of them thrive on the instant gratification of trading information wherever and whenever – through texts, photographs, videos and
conversation. For many, a cell phone is not a privilege or convenience, it’s a right.
In those brief instances when they’re not playing Nintendo or texting, there are plenty of computers and televisions around to keep them company.
Stay with me: If you consider the day/night ratio as the appropriate work/rest ratio, this generation of adolescents doesn’t rest nearly enough. During free time, they’ve got stimulation overload.
If you go further and you look at the amount of brain activity versus physical activity, the situation is even more distressing. There are exceptions, but most of this generation of adolescents uses loads of
brain energy in connection with some form of technology or communication, but there’s little physical activity to counter it. So their brains get tired, but their bodies are rarely used.
Take that combination of tired brains and restless bodies and fill a sixth grade classroom. Add one teacher who is no match to the video game action figures half the class took out seven times the evening
before. Add discussion of subject-verb agreement and teaching the writing of coherent paragraphs to the equation (paragraphs that will take a couple of days to get graded and returned)…and you’ve got a
recipe for a major disconnect.
Here are 27 12-year-olds desperately needing a chance to put their brains in neutral from the over-stimulation in their lives and put their bodies in overdrive from the lack of activity.
Houston, we have a problem – and I’m not sure a solution is anywhere on the horizon.

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One thought on “LSS: Looking for neutral”

  1. Jan,

    First, congratulations for making the year and doing it with good spirit and appreciation for your budding scholars. I may have told you that sixth grade was a crucial year for me. I had just moved from a small town, small school to a larger town, much larger school. The kindness and skill of Mrs, Hawkins, my 6th grade teacher helped me to survive and thrive.

    Your insights may be right on target. What I wonder as an aging observer is: Are we seeing factors that are evolutionary shapers that we must embrace and adjust, or are we seeing an ill that must be tweaked before the generation is lost?

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