All curriculum needs more pictures and less text

Kids need to think in pictures because that’s the way of the future. YouTube is quickly overtaking Google as the search engine of choice, but not for people who grew up in the age of text. (Like, probably, all of us). So I mean mostly the people who are growing up today, on the verge of a post-text era: Generation Z.

The art collective iHeart Street Art does a great job of capturing the way our kids exist on the bridge between the ages, as we move from text-based language to an age of visual language. They created the graffiti art above. And they created this art, too, which depending on your generational mentality you will read as a Mad Lib or as a pictograph to describe longing.

Perhaps the biggest sign that visual language is taking over is that McDonald’s has experimented with using emoji’s instead of text in their ads. (And graffiti artists are even using emoji’s to create commentary on those ads.)

Ad week calls these ads with emoji’s “terrifying” but I think the thing that really makes emoji’s terrifying is that they signal the transformation of language from text-based to picture-based. And like all generational rifts, it’s terrifying to see that Generation Z is going to have a whole new way of communicating that makes us feel outdated (yes, even you Millenials).

In the future, design will be part of everyone’s career, just like the Internet is part of everyone’s career today. Soon design will be integrated into the fabric of our lives so that it will no longer be a skill to include on a resume.

Which means our kids need to be educated in pictures and signifiers more than they need to be educated in long-form writing. Kids need to be exposed to a wide range of visual language—not just in video games (although the exposure video games give kids to other forms of language is probably one reason that kids who play video games do better as adults.)

Don’t bother bemoaning the dumbing-down of language. History shows how you will be on the wrong side of the debate. In the 90’s, everyone thought that text-based hyperlinks would dumb-down reading. And people said the vernacular languages of the Renaissance would dumb down academia. I can imagine parents thinking their kids who were inventing language on dark walls of caves were losing the collective knowledge passed down during the physical act of the hunt.

We know from history that change doesn’t mean dumbing-down, but it does mean a shift in what is most valuable to our society. For example, linguists are already pointing out that as society becomes more focused on social skills, it makes sense that our language would be more driven by emotions than ideas.

I am enthralled with the idea that as society moves toward an emphasis on social intelligence over intellectual intelligence we need a different language to describe complex emotional issues. And I love the idea that visual learning tools are the appropriate way to prepare kids.

Think about lesson plans: How do you make kids think about the complexity of love?

The first time I did that was in school, when we read Eric Fromm in high school. Fromm was difficult reading, and rather than getting ideas from Fromm, I found myself lost in the text and wondering why love seemed so easy for everyone but me.

Which is probably why I’m particularly enthralled with the idea of using images to describe big ideas. I wish someone had given me iHeart Street Art rather than Eric Fromm to describe how it’s so very complex to get to the simple equation for love:


16 replies
  1. Rayne of Terror
    Rayne of Terror says:

    I text using emojis fairly often with my niece & nephew who are teens and early twenties. Then I heard on NPR (so Gen X) how some emojis have subtext, like the eggplant, which made me feel like an old 38 because I had not picked that up. SO I sent them a message to say, OMG I just mash the buttons like an old, if I sent any inappropriate messages I’m sorry. They said they didn’t know about the eggplant either, but I think they just said that to be kind to their flailing old aunt… Actually, they send GIFs a lot more than emojis now and taught me how to install various GIF keyboards so I can have the right GIF at my fingertips. My brother even asked me how my GIF game was so good.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      My brothers do GIFs all the time. It’s hilarious.

      They’ve never been great at communicating with text. But pictures and GIFs it’s where it’s at.

      It’s amazing to me that there’s a time for everyone. Autism was elevated to almost a gift when you found almost everyone in Sillicon Valley had it and is what gave people an edge.

      I am too wordy. I talk too much at times. Maybe there was a better time to be too wordy and good at talking but not now.

  2. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    I think emojis are a MUST! One emoji expresses so much than a bunch of words and is much faster to text, too!

    You remind me that I have to go find better emojis for my phone.

  3. marta
    marta says:

    Very interesting post, Penelope.

    Makes me think.
    In pre-printing days, the Western world culture was still very visual: the stained glass in cathedrals all over Europe told all the stories the masses were meant to know and learn from. Only the educated had access to the written culture – both to christalyze and expand knowledge. Those were the elite. The massification of the written form provided by the printed book helped the wide, boundary-less circulation of ideas and the eventual overthrow of the Ancien Régime. The elite now is more about money and less about education.

    Who will the elite be in a world gone visual again?

    • Kina
      Kina says:

      I think graphic designers. We will probably also see an emergence of visual creative agencies that will create highly visual non-video campaigns.

      • marta
        marta says:

        Yes, those will be the jobs of the near future.

        But the elite? To distinguish itself from the masses – who have access to all kinds of visual intake and are already creating their own visual inprints – , the elite will have to possess something else…

        I just can’t figure out what.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I wonder about the title of this post – “All curriculum needs more pictures and less text”. It seems to me the more pictures that are added to curriculum, the more text will be added to describe and support them. It won’t be a case of one replacing the other. It will be more of both.

  5. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    There’s a very good article titled – 10 Reasons Why You Should Care About Visual Content Marketing at . Two reasons cited for the increased usage of infographics (a combination of text & images) that I thought were very applicable here are they increase understanding (at a faster rate) and they are more engaging (more interesting to those who are curious). It seems as though there would be other principles of marketing that could be applied to homeschooling to create a more optimum learning environment as well. The article cited above includes sources at the end.

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