Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Isolated Adolescence

few weeks ago I wrote about how we have extended adolescence right into the late twenties. Another great failing of that is that we have also isolated adolescence. For years in the classroom, I noticed that kids are very focused on engaging with each other. That is normal, natural and probably good. But in the 10 years I was in the class room I watched the growth of the cell phenomena. Cell phones were considered a nuisance item when I started teaching in 1998 but not a student in the K-8 School I taught in had one. Then I moved into a 7,8,9 Junior High. Cell phones were still banned as a nuisance item but were uncommon. Maybe 12-15% of the students had one and I don't remember confiscating many. Eventually that number moved up and I started ignoring the ban.

"Mr. Jorgensen, I need a calculator"
Do you have your cell phone?
"Mr. Jorgensen there aren't enough stopwatches"
Do you have your cell phone?"

Eventually the ban changed and students were allowed to have phones in the hall before and after school, but I was actually told personally that I was required to confiscate if I knew they were in my class. I get it. The technologies we have actually allow us to choose who we interact in based on common interest without regard to geography. If I don't like the class then I can engage with someone else somewhere else! That makes teaching hard because I need them to engage with difficult high level questions right now with me that aren't nearly as emotionally connected as sending out a quick

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I've been reading the book Emotional Design by Donald Norman. He is a psychologist and Computer Scientist who studies design for human-centered products. He has a lot of good things to say and was involved with the design team at Apple. He made reference in his book to the fact that by using the Cell-Phone we can escape the loneliness of the crowd. I can be walking downtown amidst strangers who I am afraid will judge, condemn and ignore me, but if I start chatting on my cell phone then I am connected.

I am afraid this happens too much with adolescence. Kids are connecting with kids. We have a 20:1 35:1 40:1 adult to student ratio in the classroom. When you connect the kids to all of their online interactions kids daily interactions are probably approaching 150:1 ratios of adolescents to adults in their lives. And I am thinking I am being very conservative and only talking about the other adolescents they actually engage with regularly for more than just inconsequential interactions.

This troubles me. There has always been a generation gap, but even with one there was not the same possibility for an underculture to develop so completely unsupervised as we know have. We have seen it growing for years with the rise of gangs, bing drinking parties and other stuff, but I honestly think there is a solution. There has to be a more concerted effort by adults to engage in this world that is already engaging our kids. We can't abandon the territory to 'them' because if we do they will engage with others and there will be some of 'them' that are adults, but not necessarily the adults that we want with our kids.

I really didn't want this post to sound so gloomy. I am actually very excited about the ability to connect. I am having a lot of fun with it and excited to see good things happening. I just look at the ratio that existed at one time during an older age based on apprenticeships and mentoring that put young adults firmly into a situation where they were expected to work with and alongside more experienced adults as being much more secure for all of us. I see so many adults who feel out of touch with teens. They are like we were when we were teens. They are people with hopes, dreams, ideas, fears just like adults. Less mature, less experienced possibly, but also more hopeful, less cynical, and jaded. We are all people and we need less isolation. The technology can create that but we have to shape it to our needs, desires and hopes. We can connect all of us.

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