Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Loving and Intelligent Defense

The Warlords from the Evil Nation of Distraction are at it again, invading the tender psyches of our children with their insidious weapons of addiction. The first secret weapons have appeared on the wrists of children at our school and those who need it least are the ones proudly displaying their badges of slumber. A kid with severe attention issues has appeared at our school with the latest gizmo, a “smartwatch” that has games on it so he can tune out from the world, the teacher, his classmates, his parents 24/7. Isn’t that great?!

I’ve never been a believer in an illness called ADD, believing that we have created this from our culture of distraction, of constant entertainment, of instant accessibility, of the relentless assault of loud sounds and flashing images all competing for attention. “Hey, look at me!” shouts one. “No, me!!” shouts the other. “”Whoah!! Over here!!” says the third. Gee, why can’t our kids focus and pay attention to one thing at a time?

When the capturing of attention is tied to your paycheck and you work in the TV/ Movie/ advertising/ video game industry, you better know Brain Science Rule No. 1. Our brain stem is wired for survival, keeping alert for danger to flood the system with necessary chemicals to fight, freeze or flee. So the things that instantly get our attention are loud sounds like thunder, guns or disco-pumping assaulting music, flashing images like lightning, a snake striking, a tiger running or the flickering quick changes on screen. Of course, a sexy woman or man will light up the brain stem, any show of power or violence. So when it comes to survival in our mediated world, with children and adults armed with clickers, you have a few seconds to hook the viewers in and a raised eyebrow sipping tea or Shakespeare soliloquy will not grab the restless channel surfer. That's why sex and violence prevails, the once three-hour Presidential debates got reduced to 45 minute shouting sessions, why the level of our national discourse is gone down to the swamplands.

Regardless of the content, the very speed and quick shifts and volume of whatever's on acclimates the nervous system to a constant state of feeling a low-level threat, floods our system long-term with chemicals meant for the short-term. With such screen time/ video game time dominating the modern child’s psychic landscape, it’s not surprise that we’ve created an epidemic of ADD and ADHD kids. Who then have trouble at school and feel like something's wrong with them, when what's really wrong is the culture who created it. Who then we often drug to help them focus. Aldous Huxley and George Orwell could only imagine the 1984’ish Brave New World we’ve created and continue to create, with our own permission to just let the kids have fun playing games on watches.

Of course, some will think I’m exaggerating and getting too worked up over a simple game on a watch. But wake up, folks, though it’s too simplistic to lay anything at the feet of one other thing alone, there’s no question in my mind that everything that contributes to our stupefaction, our slumber, our numbness to and lack of attention to the living, breathing, sensual world we inhabit, our inability to think critically and feel deeper than the next sensation and connect further to our fellow humans beyond parallel screen time, anything that gives us permission to be a mere receptacle of other’s games for profits, is a dangerous thing. Life is too short and hate-filled politicians too numerous to casually let it all slide.

And so I appeal to us adults to be more protective of the tender souls in our charge. To take Montessori’s beautiful thought of schools (and homes and families and cultural institutions) as places to create a “loving and intelligent defense of our great creative energies,” energies that need the ability to focus, to connect, to imagine in order to come to fruition. Regardless of their political persuasions, the the person who who things and feels and creates from the depth of his or her being is an enemy of the State that demands mindless conformity and manufactured consent. These are the kind of future citizens we need and our charge in helping them along by crafting an education that both protects and cultivates their creative faculties. 

And it all starts with saying no to “smartwatches” and yes to smart children.

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