After food, clothing and shelter, education comes as one of the priorities of parents. Mom and dad are ready to do anything (e.g., invest money, adjust schedules and even sacrifice personal comforts, etc.) to help the kids advance in their knowledge and skills necessary to face the challenges of life and profession.
Besides the numerous tutoring centers and the rise of home schooling methods, the Internet now plays an important role in imparting many of today’s indispensable learning skills like reading. The Internet provides easy and effective access to thousands of books and materials that students can simply click on and start devouring. This technological tool will undoubtedly contribute to the students’ academic performance. Or will it?
There are, however, studies that state the contrary. David Brooks tells of one done by researchers from the University of Tennessee which reveal that children who read real books ended up with higher reading scores than their peers. Richard Allington gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books of their choice to take home at the end of the school year. After three years, they outperformed their classmates.
Moreover, these students were less affected by the so-called ‘summer-slide’ which is a common decline in performance among lower-income students during vacation time. It seems that keeping those 12 books gave a similar advantage to attending summer school. (David Brooks, /The Medium is the Medium/, 8 July 2010)
What about the educational edge that the Internet claims to offer? Brooks adds another striking study by Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke’s Stanford School of Public Policy. “They examined computer use among half-million 5th grade through 8th graders in North Carolina and found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores. And this study used data from 2000 to 2005 before Twitter and Facebook took off.”
Brooks, however, does not discredit the educational contributions of Internet use. Advocates of Internet and computer use for learning say that these tools actually improve a person’s capability to process information and focus attention (i.e. in the case of computer games). They conclude that “the Internet is a boon to schooling and not a threat.”
The Internet undoubtedly seems to offer a wide range of learning advantages. For example, David observes that “The Internet helps you become well informed – knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends. The Internet also helps you become hip – to learn about what’s going on, as J. Epstein writes, ‘in those lively waters outside the boring mainstream.’”
Despite this positive aspect of this hi-tech communication media, one can still list down a lot more advantages by extracting and absorbing information from an honest-to-goodness hardbound book. Here are some, perhaps taken for granted rewards of booking (reading and learning from a real book) over surfeading (using the net as the main source of learning):
a)Focus and attention span. Having a concrete material task (in the form of a book) at hand seems to have a gradual and gentle learning challenge for the reader. The book is not engaged and conquered until one has set to read it from page one to page end. For now, it seems that the Internet cannot offer something as engaging. This is because one can easily ‘disconnect’ either by turning the computer off or by shifting or multi-tasking to one webpage or webtask (i.e., FaceBook, Twitter, etc.) to another.
b)Developing other virtues. Brooks points out an interesting observation that is still absent in the Internet. He says that real reading would require one to “enter a hierarchical universe, with classic literary works at the top and beach reading at the bottom. One joins as a novice, and slowly explores the work of great writers and scholars. Deference develops towards writers and thinkers who transmit a lasting wisdom.”
The Internet, on the other hand, “smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference. This digital culture is egalitarian where the young are more accomplished than the old, and there dominates a free-wheeling disrespectful anti-authority disputation.” Thus, a reader must at least already foster personal discipline, and even the proper orientation in order to filter positively what may be useful and avoid superficial surfeading.
c)Sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. The fact of gradually collecting books and coming up with a personal library can be very fulfilling. This does not only stand as a testimony of what one has read, but such a feat “makes the readers see themselves as members of a different group.”
The net may boast of accessible material amounting to many libraries. This, however, can lead one to fall prey to the easy temptation of merely storing and collecting virtually and arbitrarily anything that the Net offers for downloading. Sadly, this can be compared to many who store thousands of digital images in their machines and not have the time to collate, select and creatively present their pictures.
These points taken up in favor of ‘good old-fashioned’ reading don’t mean that the Internet has nothing better to offer than superficial information. Brooks says that this will perhaps change. “Already, more ‘old-fashioned’ outposts are opening up across the Web. It could be that the real debate will not be books versus the Internet but how to build an Internet counterculture that will better attract people to serious learning.” In the meantime, let’s get the kids to choose some good books and gradually put up their own mini-library which they can share with friends and even one day with their own children.
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