Learning to control one’s information environment is essential

The educator John Holt said, “It’s not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong, but a wrong idea from the word go. It’s a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life.”

He explains why school would never work for any kid, but what I’m noticing especially is why it won’t work for Generation Z (born in the beginning of the millennium).

The issue is control. I remember reading, almost a decade ago, that Millenials are the most photographed generation in history. They still are, of course. And one of the reasons for this is that their parents took insane amounts of pictures because suddenly, with digital cameras, they were free.

But today kids have their own cameras and they are unimpressed with the idea that someone else controls the camera. The photo above is my son screaming, “Stop taking pictures of me for your dumb blog!”

Another moment in this history of information control: My younger son was in the backseat on his own laptop open playing Minecraft, and he had my laptop open next to him playing music. Because we drive sixteen hours a week to and from Chicago, we now have an extra high-end stereo in our high-end BMW, and I couldn’t believe we weren’t using it. So, I said, “Do you want me to put the music through our stereo system?” And he said, “No, I want to be able to control it right here.”

This made me realize that the level of control that Generation Z has over their life is higher than even the most autonomous adult at the turn-of-the-20th-century, when the United States made schooling mandatory for all kids.

We’re teaching kids to control an enormous flow of information going through them, and we’re teaching them to control their audio and visual environment. The idea that all of this should be completely restricted during school is preposterous.

Lisa Nielsen takes a lot of flack for saying that schools should let kids have phones, because phones are an integral part of the learning process. But that only scratches the surface of this generation’s ability to process information at the speed of light.

We think right now that the process of taking kids out of school is in the hands of the parents. There’s going to come a point where it’s so completely ridiculous to restrict the flow of information to students that kids will take themselves out of school.

Lisa shows how this is starting in high school, today, and Silicon Valley is following that lead. The trickle down will happen fast to the younger grades, because the gap between the control kids have outside of school and the lack of control they have inside of school is becoming so wide that it’s about to explode.

6 replies
  1. Lynne
    Lynne says:

    Thank you for making me think more deeply about these issues as I start to plan for the future of my 2-year-old.

    At the moment she goes to a ‘pre-school’ three mornings a week – and she LOVES it. She seems to thrive on the interaction with the other kids and the structure of going there each week.

    Much more than I did as a toddler apparently. (Although I remember really loving school even from 4 years old)

    I’m guessing she is going to have a Myers Briggs assessment starting with an E (I am an INFJ)

    I’m open to ideas about education and will try to assess the best option for her at each stage of her life. But I’m not sure a home school option would be the best for her personality. She seems to thrive in the company of others and with a variety of teachers.

    Perhaps the middle school and high school models will have evolved into something completely different by the time she is ready for it. Something that fits a ‘school’ setting with a more individual curriculum.

  2. Greg
    Greg says:

    Tyler Cowen wrote an interesting book on this topic, “Create your own economy”. It is about the richness of post-internet cultural consumption, and an explanation of why it might not seem so rich to those who don’t create decent information streams. There’s also quite a bit about aspergers as a model for how to create great information streams.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m glad you brought up Tyler Cowen. Because I love his book, and it’s a really useful book for homeschoolers. He writes really well about taking responsiblity for your life by taking responsiblity for your own information flow. He is an economist and he’s really a revolutionary thinker – much bigger than the economics department where he teaches.

      Additionally, Tyler has launched a great resources for teaching economics and it’s free.

      Here’s the link to his book, Create Your Own Economy


      And here’t he link to his economics courses – Marginal Revolution University


      And Greg, thanks fro reminding me how much I love what Tyler is doing!


      • Greg
        Greg says:

        I totally didn’t realise how relevant his course is to what you write about. People should try viewing a couple of his courses even if they aren’t interested in economics. The format is great. It’s a massive collection of sorted 5 minute videos.

        MRuniversity makes the idea of an hour long lecture seem crazy.

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Students in a school classroom have even less control than Lisa mentions in her posts referenced above. I never really gave it much thought until I spoke to a girl who is in high school about a week ago. I’m a judge at a science fair held at a local college. After I finished judging three students, I spoke to a few other students about their projects. The girl mentioned above did a project that measured a student’s memory of a lesson based on the temperature in the classroom. I don’t remember the specifics of the procedures she utilized but I do remember her saying there was a statistical difference beyond error limits. So then we talked about other factors in the school environment that affect learning including number of students in a classroom, chair/desk comfort, humidity, etc. Those are some things that can distract and impact the education of a kid. I don’t think many of those things affected me to any real extent when I was in school. However, everybody is different, so some of those things may make a real difference in the extent to which a student will engage in the material being presented by a teacher.

  4. OMSH
    OMSH says:

    Every time you mention Minecraft I smile. My 16 year old discovered it over a year ago. Her younger sister and brother (12 and 10) love it too. My oldest doesn’t play it as much anymore – she’s too busy reading up on art schools and figuring out how fast she can graduate. My youngest two still enjoy it and are in their own “world” when those headphones slide on.

    Thanks for the tip on Lisa Nielsen – added her to my reader just now.

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