Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Brain Patterns

I'm in the midst of an interesting book.

For years, I've been annoyed when parents have cited Jane Healy's Endangered Minds as evidence they should forbid their kids access to videogames, computers, and TV. "She proves that they actually change kids' brains!" they say.

Yeah? And? Don't most of the things we do change us? I've a writer's bump on my right middle finger, my daughter has calluses on her hand from holding her saber so much, and I'm certain that what I spend my days doing creates neural pathways in my brain specific to my activities.

So I'm definitely predisposed to favor Steven Johnson's argument in his Everything Bad is Good For You. (The trade paperback was just published this month, and Johnson has an interesting blog.) The subtitle pretty well summarizes his contention: "How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter." Johnson cites examples from different eras in TV, in videogames, and on the Internet to argue for their increasing complexity over the years. (It's hilarious to compare his little graphs of the plotlines of Dragnet to those of The Sopranos.)

So if you're an unschooler worried that all that informal, non-text-based learning may be a complete waste of time, take a look. (It might be nice if a few conventional educators took a peek, too, though I'm not holding my breath.)

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