PowerPointless hits schools
Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.
Edward Tufte has been pointing out the sheer power of brilliant graphic presentation of data and the banality of crap for years. What I had not realized is that children were being asked to do PowerPoint presentations in class.
There is nothing more disastrous for a writer than a premature exposure to "point form" as anything but an outlining technique. There are dozens of reasons why schools should simply close down for weeks at a time - and I write this at the end of the summer vacation - but this is one of the best I've heard. It is bad enough to have to sit through adult PowerPoint presentations where the signal to noise ratio is 1:20 and the speed of presentation seems to assume not a single person in the room actually reads English; but to inflict this on an innocent child is indecent.
There is an article which I am making notes - in point form - for which asks the question "Why are children going to school?" The answers I've been coming up with are not encouraging. Partially because the digital/internet world has shifted the entire notion of childhood. At one point, childhood was a safe place in which children learned the things which would let them learn the things which would allow them to become functioning adults. It was a multistep process.
Those steps were required because what a person was expected to do, and could do, as an adult was substantially different from what a child could do. Things have shifted - radically. In the analog world motor skills were painfully acquired. Children played with toy tools, then small versions of real hand tools, then real hand tools before they were ever allowed to use power tools. Which made sense as power tools had serious consequences.
This logic still holds; but very little of the world's high value work is hand tooled any more. Now children have easy access to full versions of exactly the same software as adults. They have full access to Google searches for whatever information they want or need. And they have this access at very early ages.
There is no reason at all for my 13 year old not to build websites as good as anything I can make, and, with a little application, as good as anything professional web designers put together. He has the essential construction tools sitting on his machine right now.
What I am knocking around at the moment are the implications for the educational establishment of this radical diffusion of information and technology. Does it make any sense at all to send kids to school nine months a year, five days a week for six hours for 12 years? That is, after all, 13,000 hours of education time. If the end products were well versed in everything from Shakespeare to sociobiology and able to calculate change from a dollar and sales tax without a calculator, this amazing time commitment might make sense. In fact, the majority of highschool graduates have trouble with basic reading and writing skills and are flummoxed when you try to make their McJob easier by giving them $1.06 on a $.96 bill.
If the poor kids are being asked to do a PowerPoint presentation to sum up a week's work there is more wrong with the system than I imagined.