As a teacher, I know that every student isn’t going to get everything I teach the first time it comes out of my mouth. Particularly in English, it seems as though I spend the year guiding students again and again through similar and alternate paths to help them recognize literary concepts. I get that.
Here’s what I don’t get:
Me to the freshmen: “What is the setting for “The Birds”? You know, the story we just read?
Student 1: a farm.
Me: That’s right. In what country was that farm?
Student 2: Georgia?
(Now, I do know my students well enough to understand they are not referring to the former Soviet Republic.)
Me: Wrong side of the ocean.
Student 3: Minnesota?
Me: Noooo. Remember how the story mentions listening to the BBC on the wireless? What city was mentioned in the story?
Student 4: I don’t remember any city.
(I open the book, scan the pages and find the first mention of London.)
Me: Try the bottom of page 54. What city is mentioned there?
Student 1: London.
Me: Right! And what country is that in?
Student 5: France?
Now this exchange went on for quite some time as I continued to lead them through the when…beginning with the fact that no one—gasp—had cell phones and walking them back through history several decades.
How is it, I wonder, that so many students travel this far into our educational system and lack such rudimentary knowledge of the world around them? No wonder they look at me when we try to read material that’s not related to fashion, sports or some musician’s latest hit like I’m speaking Greek.
We’re watching Alfred Hitchcock’s version of “The Birds” which, I might add, has only the concept of attacking birds and the title in common with Du Maurier’s short story, and I would be willing to bet that when I ask them tomorrow what U.S. state it’s set in, no one will say California.
We live in an age of information unlike anything anyone’s ever experienced. As a writer, I am still amazed at how quickly I can locate answers to questions that would have required extensive library research just two decades ago. So it frightens me that all this information is so readily available, and yet it seems like students are becoming more and more myopic and insular about the world around them.
Have they become like the person who dines every evening at the all-you-can-eat buffet? Have they become so overloaded with information they no longer have any desire to find out anything new?