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The "Consumption" Crisis

The Industrial Age brought vocation to the forefront of education.  The Technological Age brought innovation to the classroom.  And now, we are in the latter half of the world’s Information Age.  There are literally volumes and volumes of “easy to access”, instantaneous, unfiltered, un-vetted information at the tips of our fingers waiting for consumption.  Schools also contain intense and rigorous volumes of information.  The curriculum of today’s high schools is as in depth and enriching as ever before.  Algebra II students perform more complex equations than any generation before them.  But, in this sea of unfettered data, the mechanisms of regulation no longer exist.  “Back in the day” information was censored by government regulation.  The Vietnam era changed news reporting forever.  Parents shielded us from information.  It was simply not as accessible as today.  Television choices were limited and the shows were all “family friendly”.  And, mediums for accessing information were limited to a newspaper or a magazine.  Heaven forbid, maybe even inside a book; a real paper and ink book.  Communication was also not so easy.  In school, if we wanted to communicate to a girlfriend or boyfriend, we had to hide a piece of paper and scribble a note without getting caught.  Then we had to wait for the class change and hope we were not caught passing it.  Worse yet, we had to wait another class period or even two to get a response.  Not today.  The note is four emojis sent in a 1/2 a millisecond and the reply is three emojis back in another ½ of millisecond. 

Kids have unlimited access to information.  They have access to it in an instant.  And, the information is never what a teacher would want it to be.  But it is the information the student wants to consume; whether it be social media or a media source for their own enjoyment like Youtube.  Masses and masses of instantaneous, touch of a button information and communication for their own immediate and "in the moment self-gratification".  This Consumption Age is now the greatest crisis in our schools. 

Bold statement-  “A Crisis”.  The simple response is going to be “Just ban the use of their phones”.  That makes as much sense as a teacher in 1985 saying, “We shouldn’t let them use these… COMPUTERS”.  The hand held digital Information Age is here.  Phones are now even turning into watches.  I suppose we in the school system are supposed to “ban” wristwatches too?  Besides, are kids not inherently a little bit rebellious?  They’re not giving up that which they are now dependent on because of a rule.  In 1988, we still watched MTV every chance we got even if our parents told us not to.  The crisis is not about the instrument or the tool.  The crisis is not even about the information available.  It is not about Snapchat or Facebook.  It’s not Instagram or YouTube.  The crisis is consumption.  Consumption is overpowering production. 

The challenge of today’s classroom is finding a way to empower students to “want” to produce a product for their own self development.  The power of the information they want to consume has to be matched by the power, passion, and curiosity that the information a teacher has to offer that makes them want to produce a product.  It is a monumental task.  The paradigms of learning and school have shifted.  500 years ago, information was controlled and distributed by “the king and/or the church”.  That was the only source.  100 years ago, information was still largely in the hands of the powerful and the print press (newspapers).  40 years ago, it was distributed by the “news”.  And 25 years ago, the internet made it available on the computer. But, the consumption crisis spawned when the world… literally the world was made available in our pockets. 

It is not just a crisis for our kids and students.  We, as adults, are guilty too.  The availability of masses of information has created our own consumption crisis.  We all suffer the compulsions of checking our social media, checking for messages, reading or viewing mass media releases at our whims; even if it is at inappropriate times.  This mass consumption crisis stifles production.  We fixate on the fascination that the information we consume creates.  Facebook has become the adult world’s version of Snapchat for kids (kids are always going to be a medium ahead of the grown-ups.  Why else would they have their own created language of emojis?).  People’s use of Facebook contains about as much useful adult information that actually is helpful to the betterment of society as a trash can does.  There is a lot of things you can find in a trash can, but at the end of the day, it is still trash (my Facebook postings included).  We try to keep the public informed through Facebook and Twitter about positive things happening in school, but that information often gets swamped by the masses of other rantings and “manufactured” news on the site. 

It is a challenge.  School is viewed so differently than it was a generation ago.  Curriculum and instruction are harder now than ever especially at the secondary level.  The fight is no longer about trying to impart knowledge.  That ship sailed the moment the Information Age began because knowledge is available to them 24/7.  It's good and bad knowledge.  But, it is available. The fight today is convincing kids that the knowledge and information being delivered is somehow useful to them.  It’s about convincing them it is important.  (And, by the way, telling them is important because of some test is a giant waste of time.  The test is not relevant to their passions or interests).  We have to shift our focus away from the “standardized” model of schools and spend time with the human capital of our kids.  Develop the person.  Teach them how to have a conversation with an actual person.  Teach them the value of work ethic and self discipline.  Teach them the notion of service to others or to a greater good.  The “Algebra stuff” will fall into place, and if we don’t make our kids understand the value of producing a great product, or giving a maximum effort.  It they don’t understand that it is more important to the world that they are productive instead of just consumptive, the Algebra lesson won’t matter anyway.