The Fate of “Digital Natives”

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Are young people in the digital age perpetually plugged-in drones, or tolerant, politically and socially shrewd citizens with untapped potential? There has always existed a culture gap between educators and their students, but technology seems to have widened it into a chasm. Given the alienation that many educators feel from their students today, the debate over the fate of so-called “Digital Natives” and how to teach them continues.

William Deresiewicz over at The Chronicle Reviewlaments the loss of solitude for today’s youth. He worries for his students and the apparent nonstop nature of their connectedness, from Facebook to Twitter to text messaging.

“Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration,” he writes, “but it is also taking away our ability to be alone.”

Deresiewicz then wonders what this loss portends: “And losing solitude, what have they lost? First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life – of wisdom, of conduct. Thoreau called it fishing ‘in the Walden Pond of [our] own natures’, ‘bait[ing our] hooks with darkness.” 

Barry Duncan and Carol Arcus take a less pessimistic stance at the Education Forum of Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. While acknowledging the concern for Digital Natives’ ability to think critically about the media they consume, Duncan and Arcus instead see an opportunity to “link this multi-sensory, multi-modal, multi-literate experience to new notions of literacy and identity.”

They suggest that “Net Geners” might be “smarter, quicker and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors. They are more politically savvy, socially engaged and family-centered than society gives them credit for.”

And, they see in the conversation around teaching Digital Natives the possibility “to figure out and invent ways to include reflection and critical thinking in the learning…but still do it in the Digital Native language.”

Sources: The Chronicle Review, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation

Image by Bombardier, licensed under Creative Commons

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