So in news that makes me embarrassed to be both an English speaker and a Twitter user, adorable Brazilian schoolchildren are correcting the grammar in celebrity tweets as a way of improving their own English skills. Also, they’re ridiculously polite when they do this. Celebrities, please take note and learn both grammar and manners.
While this is an awesome exercise in both learning about punctuation and proofreading for these students, it also raises some questions – if you can be a multimillionaire with no demonstrated command of the English language, are there other skills we’re being taught in elementary school that have been rendered obsolete by the digital age?
So I’m going to date myself by saying this (I’m old, guys), but in my youth, word processing software didn’t have spellcheck. If you didn’t know how to spell a word, you had to look it up in the dictionary, which is this giant book (a predecessor to dictionary.com) that listed all of the words. I have gleaned from my friends who are teachers that spelling tests are still a thing, and I know spelling bees are alive and well, but there’s something about the fact that kids can just spellcheck their papers now instead of having to proofread for actual typos. How long before they’re just dictating their essays to Siri?
On the subject of writing, how relevant is penmanship anymore? I have fond memories of that paper that had lines like a traffic light so you knew where to start and end your letters, and less fond memories of the hand cramps that followed writing an entire essay test in cursive. I was relieved to learn that apparently most students are still learning cursive, presumably mostly so that they can establish a signature that will devolve into an illegible scrawl. When more and more of our communication is just taking place on a screen and not even on paper, should we be learning cursive at all, or would time spent learning that be better used catching our math and science skills up to the rest of the world?
Then again, who needs math skills when we’re all carrying around phones that function perfectly well as calculators? I recently learned that a friend who’s my age (an age I promise isn’t 50) used to take an actual abacus to school. I was actually impressed, and a little jealous that he knows how to use an abacus. I can barely remember where my calculator is, and heaven help me if I ever have to actually use it. 97% of the math I do is done in Excel, and the other 3% is calculating tips, which I do in my head, but I’m pretty sure there’s an app for that.
I have a friend who actually cannot tell time using a regular clock – she had the chicken pox when it was covered in school, cheated on the test, and subsequently never learned. It seems like most clocks are digital these days; is there really value anymore in learning all this hour hand and minute hand nonsense? Do people even wear watches to tell time anymore, or do kids just think they’re fun fashion accessories with numbers on them?
One of the most important lessons of elementary school was learning how to interact with other kids – not fighting over toys, forming friendships based on your shared love of Anastasia Krupnik books, realizing that boys have cooties. Here’s the thing, though. Talking to other kids is hard, and scary. So we can just skip that bit and be friends with people on the internet, based on some selfies and perceived shared interests.
Basically, what I’m suggesting is that we overhaul our whole elementary education system and focus on the skills these kids are going to need to be successful: Instagram, Tumblr, and a willingness to humiliate themselves on reality television in exchange for money. (Relax, Millenial-fearers, I’m kidding). The point of technology isn’t to avoid using our brains, it’s just a shortcut to be used after we’ve learned the real skills behind it, so we can spend our time doing really important things like protesting t-shirts that are maybe mean to Taylor Swift. That said, I do remember when things like “computers” and “typing” were elective classes, and not essential skills required to succeed, so I am curious to see what elementary school will look like by the time I have kids.
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