Interactive Media Young people & museums

marc prensky vs digital immigrants in adelaide

Mike and I had the opportunity to see Marc Prensky present to an audience of educators – 90% digital immigrants – in Adelaide last week. He raised a number of points I found provocative and relevant specifically to our shvl programs, if not more broadly to exhibitions and exhibition development. He structured his presentation into 4 main themes:
1. dealing with change
2. producing engagement
3. mutual respect
4. sharing success

Some points which resonated with me include:

  • one important difference between analogue and digital is that with digital you can program it – make it do what you want.
  • – a website capturing and sharing opinions of students (and teachers) – interviewing over 150000 students in one day!
  • learning can no longer be push, only pull
  • engaement is more important than technology
  • empathy for students is more important than content
  • fun is the act of mastering a problem mentally – Rafe Kotter
  • learn. have fun. do good for others. the new triple bottom line eg The ESP game.

The presentation he gave is not yet up in the EdNA website but here’s a previous ppt with some of the same slides we saw which will give you his main argument. Š

Unoffical audio recording is here (PHM internal use only).

22 replies on “marc prensky vs digital immigrants in adelaide”

There are some things about Prensky that still unnerve me. I think I should like what he has to say, but there’s something that jars – I can’t quite place my finger on it . . . yet.

Part of the reason it concerns me is the same way using a film (eg Clueless) to ‘update’ a book (Jane Austen’s Emma) concerns me, especially if it replaces the actual reading of Austen.

Is it just about engagement? (No, or at least I hope not)

Have teachers/educators lost the ability to engage? (Maybe for some students – but we also expect a lot more of students these days now that manufacturing and manual labour jobs have moved offshore or are filled by new migrants, and we encourgae everyone to complete Year 10 if not Year 12)

Do teachers need retraining? (Yes, always)

But are we changing the core of education simply to engage with ‘customers’? (What were the real results of the Dawkings higher education ‘reforms’ in the late 80s when technical colleges were upgraded to universities? Sure university access became open to more, but the nature of what they were accessing changed too)

Maybe it goes to the core of what ‘education’ is ‘supposed’ to do – which may now be to create a entry level class of service workers for the new economy, and consumers who can understand advertising.

I dont know that Prensky has ever advocated engagement for its own sake. And we have crossed these swords previously on this blog.
I take him to be advocating the use of engagement as a base line from which to build interactions useful in the development of people who have mastery in, control of, and a love for, their own learning.

If watching Clueless actually motivated people to read Jane Austen, then I would see this as good. If it’s a replacement for reading I agree, its not good. But even this is too simplistic an argument.

And the fact is that the domains/professions of education (and museums for that matter) are indisputably, predominantly populated by digital immigrants.
If we continue to build lessons, programs and exhibitions which ignore contemporary practises like ‘consumer’ co-creation, continue to present finished narratives, and stifle individuals ability to get past the things we choose to show and tell so as to ‘mine’ the deep wells of information our collections/expertise truly represent following their own curiosity, then we do this at our peril. And I think many of our existing (formal and informal)learning structures are doing just this, and so driving headlong towards irrelevance to our students/visitors/audiences/customers.

For me, Prensky is a passionate and eloquent advocate and provocatuer for reflection and debate, the value and importance of which increases daily, only the moreso as it is increasingly denied and/or discouraged.

One of the issues I constantly come up against which relates to Prensky and Sebs comments, is this notion of ‘priviledge’; that we priviledge particular forms over others. ‘Clueless’ as a derivative of ‘Emma’ is of ‘lesser’ value….? Computer Games are of lesser value than books? That we have an assumtion that reading is more ‘valuable’ than… well pretty much anything else.?

But this notion is the same fuel that drives various conservative education ministers and Prime ministers to cry loudly and passionately that we have ‘universal truths’, that there are defintive ‘Australian values’. As a result we have the current spate of attacks on the NSW English curriculum because it focuses on Critical Literacy and not the endorsement of ‘universal truths’… Whose ‘truth’? and where do i buy one of these ‘Australian values’.

If we take literature as example and look at this notion of the ‘Classic’, Why do we study Emma, War and Peace, Shakespeare, Count of monte christo, Pygmalion etc etc..? because they are ‘Classics’ is the answer that is oft quoted. because they have stood the test of time… Ok, so if we then set about to define the term ‘classics’ there really is no viable, rational, universally common or applicable definition other than ‘old’…

So why do we consider reading more valuable than computer games? Bceause it’s older? Many parents would happily have their children reading Harry Potter for days on end but would seriously baulk at them playing the Harry Potter computer game for days on end… What really is the difference? both are narratives, both involve examination, interpretation and a ‘decoding’ based on a understanding of the communicative and literary framework in whcich they are presented? Many would say the former involves imagination and the later does not but i would argue that this is bullshit. All contemporary computer games involve a huge amount of imaginative engagment manifest in problem solving, re-construction, customization, pre-visualisation, planing and mental projection. (and this is onyl getting more so as game parameters ever widen and the trend towards game developers releasing bare framworks for games to be populated and constructed imaginmatively bu the prod-users; witness World of Warcraft, Neverwinter nights, Morrowind, and Everquest)

To argue that reading is more imaginative because there are ‘no pictures’ is absurd and shows a complete lack of respect for good writing or the power of the written word to create precise and distinct ‘visualisations’. Thus the irony that the same people who would argue reading is more valuable would also say ‘Reading’ requires more ‘Imagination’… This borders on an oxymoron.

I’ve come to a point now where I just dont buy it… I’m not syaing that i dont believe reading is of the utmost importance but, that said, I fail to see a really water-tight justification for the ‘privilidging’ of reading over all else. Emmotionally i want to be able to say that this is true (probably because i’m on the very fringe of the first ‘digital natives’ and have old school residue) but other than to say soemthign is ‘older’ I cant see an tangible justification for the hierachy of value.

And I think this is where Prensky’s perception of pedagogy and engement holds enormous value. Our students are (or need to be) highly ‘literate’ across many forms (way beyond the text-specific literacies of the old guard), They are fast thinking and nimble brianed because they’ve trained themselves that way – to impose, what must seem an antiquated notion, that ‘reading’, as a mechanism for absorbing information, sits at the top of a hierachical tree of significance and value might sound reasonable to Digital Immigrants but must just seem utterly absurd to the Digital Native… A bit like having your pick of the worlds great cars to get you where you want to go and choosing the Datsun 120Y…

Mike I know what you mean – I’m uncomfortable about the argument for the same reasons.

From my perspective Austen, Shakespeare, Dickens etc are important because they are historical and come from a shared history (although with migration this shared history is itself contested – thus I would also add other important stories from other cultures to the mix). The are important because they teach abou the past, to empathise with conditions of the past, and remind us that the conditions of the present are not that different from the past. They are also in the public domain – they are not controlled by one corporate entity, many different publishers can publish different versions.

They are also important because they instill a sense of discipline – that learning IS hard, and sometimes is NOT fun. I would be amongst the first to argue that that sense of discipline through learning is likely a result of the Protestant work ethic but it is also the work ethic that drives modern capitalism and the economy, and at the end of the day, is how societies currently have come to manage ‘difference’ in contemporary cultures (its either through the market or through overt force/coercion or a combination of the two)

In Prensky’s PPT (linked above) there is a slide that quotes a game player saying they learnt about Rome by building Rome in Caesar II. Sure they did – superficially they build a virtual city in a game environment, empathised with their digital minions etc – but what did they learn of the history of Rome that wasn’t mediated through the lens of the game? What different histories of Rome did they learn (other than their own)? What did they learn about slaves (other than as cheap units of labour to build their empire with)? etc These are not faults with the approach of learning through video games but reveals their constraints.

And that brings me to the difference between books and video games (and films for that matter). There are loads of books offering different perspectives on all manner of subjects. Books are cheap to make, they are inherently portable, they are easily preserved, and when their copyright expires, they are still able to be used (read). Video games on the otherhand are very very expensive to make, they are made predominantly by the elites of a handful of countries, they cover very very few content areas , they deteriorate and are rarely ‘useful’ once their copyright expires.

The car analogy is good one – I’d say you need to walk before you should drive. Driving a car limits you to roads, walking lets you go anywhere. including off the road. Reading is akin to walking.

What type of worthwhile (as judged by the learner) learning is not fun? What do you mean by fun? Do you think that for it to be real learning always requires discipline? From where is this discipline applied? From without eg coercive, discplinarian, scrict teachers? or from within, in which case, does it feel like its not fun? because its learning?

I agree with Prensky, supported by my own experiences teaching and as a parent, that the days of push instruction are already pretty much over
Fro me, he is instructive when he quotes Rafe Kotter “Fun is the act of mastering a problem mentally” but I suggest that we need to carefully consider how far people are willing to go on trust – they need to, and are entitled IMHO, to understand not only why we value the learning, but have the chance to come to the desire to learn for themselves.

Prensky argues that content is less important that empathy adn I strongly hold with this. Learning is not wrong, but our apporaches to delivering content not longer fit in todays world, where the problem is no longer access to information, rather, useful schemes for searching and sorting. Having a basis for shared learning experiences requires a mutual respect which is at odds with pre-existing systems of respect for expertise/seniority/etc.

Re constraints of games for teaching history eg, this is missing the point. Learning is an individual experience and experts can no longer develop programs which do not provide multiple access points, and which do not respect the individual differences of learners. Prensky is at great pains to explain that he is not advocating that every one learn with games, or with books for that matter. It is about a more collaborative experience for which yet there are few documented models save for the early childhood approaches of Reggio Emilia.

You say :

“a game player saying they learnt about Rome by building Rome in Caesar II. Sure they did – superficially they build a virtual city in a game environment, empathised with their digital minions etc – but what did they learn of the history of Rome that wasn’t mediated through the lens of the game?”

How is this any different to the mediation and warping that happens through the ‘lens’ of any author whether they be a filmmaker, game developer or author…? The history from a game is no less valid because it has been ‘authored’ from one perspective. A book is no better and no different.

The divide between those who have access to technology and those that dont is enormously significant but that divide in terms of computer technology is no different today than it was for books in the middle ages. Books were rare, expensive, elitist, hard to transport, most people couldnt read them – virtually all things games can be critiscised of. but these problems disolved over time and now the book is largely universal. But that took 100s of years to achieve. Could you argue in 1415 that the book was a lesser form to the oral-tardition because it was not portable, flexible, accesible and unviersal? Sure you could. Time changed that. Why would, could or should we see games as any different now?

There is great potential for game development costs to drop hugely as much developemnt is taken from the closed-system of a production studio to the open environment of user development. The accesability and affordability of the technology grows everyday as it did for the book through the printing press, the paperback etc… Copyright is an issue as is format obselescnce. but Creative Commons grows in influence everyday and you only need look at the guge popularity of MAME emulators and the re-relase of classic games on current devices – PSP, NDS, XBOX – to see that the platform obselescene is not nessasarilly inevitable. These cretaiosn can and are beign not onyl preserved but achieving longevity. Witness the installation of the retro games in the SHVL in the Jan holidays. Big success with Litttle kids, teens and mums and dads all playing together for HOURS…

Pete – you know I like discipline. heh heh.

I guess what I was getting at was more about people learning the skills to overcome challenges – that by understanding that some things are inherently difficult and need to be tackled by sometimes unpleasant activities.

I think that this is exactly what Prensky is getting at – that games can help problem solving and finding new ways of approaching difficult problems.

But I also think that there is a tendency, tracked esepcially from the 50s onwards, for an over emphasis on ‘the individual’ and what this individual wants/needs/desires. And that desires should generally be met (through appropriate consumer choices in a liberal democracy). And that this (that most/all desires should be met) DOES creep into the practical implementation of new forms of teaching, education, and parenting.

Mike says

The divide between those who have access to technology and those that dont is enormously significant but that divide in terms of computer technology is no different today than it was for books in the middle ages. Books were rare, expensive, elitist, hard to transport, most people couldnt read them – virtually all things games can be critiscised of. but these problems disolved over time and now the book is largely universal. But that took 100s of years to achieve. Could you argue in 1415 that the book was a lesser form to the oral-tardition because it was not portable, flexible, accesible and unviersal? Sure you could. Time changed that. Why would, could or should we see games as any different now?

But in the middle ages there was no such call for books in education. Modern education only comes about once the printing press was invented.

Until there IS a diversity of games on the market or better, in the public domain, then the diversity of books and the need to learn to read is indisuptable.

I agree with the arguments about elitist attitudes and value judgements placed on various media as well as the value of culture. I am a computer teacher and many of my students are avid game players. I try to teach my students creatively and seek to give them some choice in their education while teaching strong content and connectivity between what is taught in the classroom and the ability to apply the skills and knowledge to the “real world” outside school. Educational values and media have changed a lot from the middle ages and what one generation may value another does not.

Unfortunately, I must say that only on very rare occasions do I actually come across students that know how to do much on a computer other than play games. Prensky can talk all he wants about how much they learn playing games and it might sound alright in theory… but does it work? The reality is empatically NO.

On the other hand can games be used in the classroom? Can game making have educational value? The answer is YES.

If the students who first step foot in my classrooms are examples of digital natives then unfortunately their civilization is going down the gurgler because they have not learned much and what they have learned has questionable value.

lets have a look at what these “digital natives” have learned:
*how to destroy the opposition so that they win
*to win at all costs
*I really don’t know how well they work in teams (when in the end it is all about themselves)

By the time they leave my class I would like to think that the values they leave with are much better then those they enter with.

What skills do they enter my class with from game playing? very little. They know BASIC word processing, can use PowerPoint and can browse the web; Not much more. Game playing has taught them very little baout anything other than playing games. The boy who said he does not want to learn about Rome because he builds Rome every day in a game,” probably has very little understanding about what Rome really achieved or anything about the Romans. How much has he really learned? How deep is his knowledge?

So what am I saying? I am saying that gaming has a place in education but that it is not an end in itself. It is only one tool out of many which can be employed and that by itself I question how much a student actually learns while playing the games. On the other hand when game playing is a part of a creative environment where students are encouraged to think and learn, while I don’t believe that it supersedes the old media of books (or film which students can also be fairly bored about) it does have a real place in the classroom. It can be dynamic and interactive and does allow for a variety of skills but most students need guidance to take anything of value away with them.

I use project based scenarios and find that game making is an excellent springboard for a variety of activities.

Unfortunately it seems that Prensky has some very interesting ideas but is too stuck in the theory and needs to find out what the reality is in the classroom. When a variety of jobs are advertised where the criteria for office workers or any other job is excellent skills in playing games then Prensky has really come of age, but until then I think I might stay one of those instructional designers/ educators who stuff up good game playing by introducing values, skills and content.

Thanks for your input Grahamb. Its great to have your perspective as a classroom teacher, and to discover another fresh & new blog reader.

At the presentation Mike and I attended, prensky was at pains to not have the agenda ‘hijacked’ into an exclusive discussion about whether games were useful/good/better/bad teaching tools than any others.

Rather, he was passsionately advocating that we, as educators, all do everything in our power to foster student engagement. He is into games, so he uses games. (And BTW, constantly works with school kids, albeit as a specialist not classroom teacher. I happened to be sitting next to a classroom teacher who had hosted preensky the day before working with a ‘mixed ability and interest’ group of junior high school kids, and he was highly complimentary of Prensky’s ability at the ‘coalface’.

However, prensky promoted ideas around what i will now call student-teacher co-ownership of learning, and suggested that outdated chalkandtalk ‘push’ info delivery models might be reviewed in the light of contemporary communication technologies and practices.

From the reactions and conversations his presentation stimulated that day, and since, suggests that an aim of collaboratively design learning experiences together with our students (and visitors) is a genuine and important challenge not only for us here in the museum but also in the classrooms of the world.

Perhaps you and I might also share a view that the real value of prensky is as a provocateur, encouraging reflection (part of best practise after all) and dialogue.

I guess my personal position is that I’m for whatever it takes to engage a person, a ‘whole person’, in learning as a continuous lifelong active process. And I think more real and relevant and perhaps even better ways to do this are often closer than we think.

I wonder how many other blog lurkers may be privately considering these matters, and welcome all and any comments.

hi pete, others,

I was the teacher sitting next to you at the prensky presentation who was “highly complimentary of Prensky’s ability at the ‘coalface’” – you have quoted me accurately :-)

I wrote some comments on my blog yesterday about the discussion here, before the comment from graham. My classroom experiences are consistent with Graham’s btw.

I must be an dig immigrant because I only just figured out that I could join and post my own comment!!

It’s an interesting, nuanced discussion but I would like to hear your thoughts beyond a comparison of the value of Clueless, the film versus Emma, the book. That is a useful discussion but what educators typically do is ask students to both receive and produce information in a variety of media (book, film, games).

The way James Gee puts it is “rather than read / write we now have recognise / produce”

Below is what I blogged:

here is rough attempt at summary, so far:

seb: a lot of what is developed (games, whatever) has modern capitalism / consumerism / market as an underlying driving force and ought to be critiqued from that perspective

pete: engagement is essential starting point, worthwhile learning is fun, push is in decline – we need shared learning, mutual respect, “consumer” co-creation

mike: “universal truths” are suspect, why should reading (Emma) be priviledged over film (Clueless) – digitial immigrants may emotionally privilege reading over everything else but there is no logical justification for this

my comments:
As well as reading books we ask students to write
As well as watching film we ask students to make film
As well as playing games we ought to ask students to learn programming and make games
(prensky seemed to be not clear about this)

Digital immigrants (like me) will continue to be fuzzy about the real significance of games -and not be able to do critical analysis – because not being a very skilled game player means that it’s not up close – just like any other immigrant

With regard to the changing meaning of literacy I’d recommend a book by James Gee: What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy

Hi all

Bill your quote on your blog from the Tasmanian Ken Price is provocative.

I’ve been thinking about all this – its been nagging away at me whilst I’ve been working on a myriad of other things.

And Pete, Mike and I and our less blog-nerdy colleagues have been bouncing ideas around the office.

If anything Prensky, James Gee and others have worked as a stimulus for us to re-eavluate and re-approach our own Museum practices – be it in interactive development, media education, or websites.

Your point above on getting students to read and WRITE, watch film and MAKE film is very strong. And we are definitely a LONG way away from getting anywhere near being able to successfully get anyone, en masse, to MAKE games. There have been some noble attempts in the commercial game world since the 80s and all have been commercial failures – I vividly remember the hours I spent with the Shoot Em Up Construction Kit in the mid 80s as a kid.

I’d add that (using the cinema metaphor) that we are yet to have a proper independent game making universe to compete against what is effectively the Hollywood world of mainstream game makers. Even with open source options the barriers to entry are very very high and the expectations of players/consumers are very technology driven (for better or worse). Nor have we yet had anything serious in the way of ‘world’ gaming – other than perhaps the heavy influence of Japanese game makers. I am yet to hear of a popular game from the Middle East for example – in the way that I have heard of Iranian film makers etc.

I’d also refer everyone on to the work of Schaller who i mention here. Schaller refers to the work of educational psychologist Keiran Egan in a lot of his work. Egan’s book The Educated Mind is a great read and Egan is, over a series of books, developing a model for the different TYPES of learning that children through to adults move through – the GENRES of narratives and games that have appeal at different ages across cultures.

It is this sort of nuanced analysis that needs to be brought to the fore. Likewise the imapct of gender on the importance of gaming (and other media) needs to be addressed in the same way the difficulties boys tend to have in reading has been researched.

Hi Bill, Seb, Mike, Graham et al

Bill, what a lovely surprise to meet you again here in blogspace! Thanks for your contribution, and for summarising our (rambling?) conversation so far.

The other issue which Prensky failed to take on has been described as the ‘digital divide’. While the digital native description might work for some young people, many of the 50% of the world’s population who are under 25yrs may have never yet made a phone call.

Still, I reckon we can and should continue to try to find ways to actually ‘collaborate’ with young people. These people will be our future audiences – our future – and we in the cultural sector as well as in education could always do more to recruit their active participation, interest and loyalty right now.

As a decidedly digital immigrant staff we at phm might try and experiment more boldly with young people as co-creators and seek more opportunities to welcome, recognise and celebrate their expertises, invite them ‘inside the tent’ to change and refresh what we are and can be. As learning facilitator’s we (here at shvl @ phm) have some experience in delivering a range of learning opportunities although we could collaborate much more. As a museum, we are open to using various contemporary communication genres: in our media labs ( and other public programs, via web services, and of course in our exhibitions, and we have stated our determination to ‘refresh’ more broadly. I still belive Prensky offers some useful perspectives.

Already I would say we’ve had our money’s worth out of attending the Prensky presentation, even though in many ways these important and valuable conversations are just getting started.

hi seb,

I’m a member of an educational game making cluster and we’ve had some success with both students and teachers with game making. The main program I use is gamemaker developed by Marc Overmars from the netherlands, it’s a free download. A smart student can make a game within 15 minutes – it has a very nice drag and drop interface to get started with – although I don’t deny there is a continual ongoing learning curve before they can develop a complex game.

I’ve developed resources at my website here

Margaret Meijers (Tasmania) uses Klik & Play, for younger students, as well as GameMaker

I followed your link to the Egan book – it rang some bells but there wasn’t really enough there for me to get my head around it. I’d like to see a more detailed review.

Not sure why you found the Ken Price extract provocative.


I’ll check those game maker links. Cheers.

Egan – he has a website (far more lo fi than Prensky’s!) with a lot of his writings from early to current on it. That said, I’ve not read his other books – educational theory is not what I do really – and Egan came up for me through a day long hands on workshop with Schaller in which groups of museum web and interactive developers from around the world built on-paper games for different ages of students – drawing on his theories of narrative and learning. In short, what Egan argues, as is relevant for my work is about identifying the most appropriate game type/genre for particular ages, and building appropriate narratives, tasks and rewards, again targetted at specific ages and learning styles.

Pete and Mike would be in a better place to comment on Egan’s educational theories with their work being more directly ‘educationally’ focussed.

Ken Price – I meant that in an internal way. I’m not sure Mike has read it yet.

hi pete,

Your comment about Prensky not addressing the digital divide is true I think. Overall, I like Prensky’s slogans and slides – “50% of the world’s population is under 25” – because they offer different ways to think about things, but then he doesn’t always provide the critical analysis as a follow up. You said earlier that he was a provocateur. He shakes things up and moves on, it’s a useful role to play IMO provided the geographical natives follow up with the critical analysis.

You did not say this but there is a slogan that has been circulating for some years that “50% of the worlds population has never made a phone call”. What you said reminded me of that so I went and looked it up again.

Clay Shirky refutes the figures but also puts it into the context of whether we view the world from a statist or dynamist perspective.

From a dynamist perspective change itself is accelerating and the digitial divide will come to an end in a historically short time. Prensky did address this – that change is accelerating, 2^30 = 1,000,000,000 – but did not address social class or the rich / poor country divide.

It’s a bit of a side issue to the general thrust of your comments (which I think are dynamist) but the Shirky article is a good read.

Oh yeah . . . . Egan’s The Educated Mind book summarised on Wikipedia.

Egan makes two main arguments:

A) Education is currently a compromise between three competing goals:

-Platonic – the need to educate an elite of the population in subjects that are important academically.
-Rousseauian – the right for every individual to pursue their own educational curriculum through self-discovery.
-Socialising – the need to ensure that individuals can fulfill a useful role in society.

B) Individuals proceed through a series of stages in their approach to understanding:

-Mythic – concepts are introduced in terms of simple opposite (e.g. Tall/Short or Hot/Cold)
– Romantic – the practical, realistic limits of the mythic concepts are discovered. Egan equates this stage with the desire to discover examples of superlatives (e.g. ‘What is the tallest/shortest a person can be?’) and to the accumulating of extensive knowledge on particular subjects (e.g. stamp collecting).
-Philosophic – the discovery of principles which underly patterns and limits found in romantic data.
– Ironic – the ability to consider alternative philosophic explanations.

hi seb,

thanks for wikipedia summary of Egan and thanks also for leaving a comment on my blog about the book Techgnosis.

it’s all up for grabs, isn’t it? I mean there are so many interesting ideas and theories around about how to improve education and yet in practice it often amounts to being invited to the world’s greatest restaurant and then being told to eat the menu

the reason I was initially attracted to Seymour Papert’s ideas (going back more than 15 years now) was because of the strategy he advocated of using the computer as both an instrumental and heuristic device for white anting the traditional step by step curriculum.

I explore this in an article I wrote a long time ago, which I’ve recently published here

i’m not saying papert’s approach has been successful (School has co-opted the computer, although radicals can use it to find a niche) but the problem I see with Egan’s ideas is the lack of an instrumental base by which they can infiltrate into the school system – where is the trojan horse?

Its been a while since I revisited this post, but reading another blog who I check for music related reasons, posted a fantastic piece that has some bearing on what we have been discussing here.

K-Punk, who teaches, asks the question “Why are French students out on the streets rejecting neo-liberalism, while British students, whose situation is incomparably worse, resigned to their fate?” and goes on to cover what he terms ‘refelxive impotence’.

In so doing he draws together some interesting ideas and theories.

I particularly like his idea of ‘post-lexia’ as a more accurate description of some students’ dyslexia.

(full and well worth reading post here.)

Ask students to read for more than a couple of sentences and many – and these are A-level students mind you – will protest that they can’t do it. The most frequent complaint teachers hear is that it’s boring. It is not so much the content of the written material that is at issue here; it is the act of reading itself that is deemed to be ‘boring’. What we are facing here is not just time-honoured teenage torpor, but the mismatch between a post-literate ‘New Flesh’ that is ‘too wired to concentrate’ and the confining, concentrational logics of decaying disciplinary systems.

There is a sense, of course, in which reading is boring. Upon first encounter, philosophical or literary writing which is genuninely new will be frustrating and difficult. But that is true of the acquisition of any skill – learning to play a musical instrument, for instance, is demanding before it is enjoyable. A certain hedonic-conservative consensus holds sway, however, which holds, with Homer Simpson, that ‘if something is too hard to do, then it’s not worth doing’.

On this account, ‘boring’ is not opposed to ‘interesting’. To be bored simply means to be removed from the communicative sensation-stimulus matrix of texting, MTV and fast food, to be denied, for a moment, the constant flow of sugary gratification on demand. Some students want Nietzsche in the same way that they want a hamburger; they fail to grasp – and the logic of the consumer system encourages this misapprehension – that the indigestibility, the difficulty is Nietzsche.

and later

If, then, something like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a pathology, it is a pathology of late capitalism – a consequence of being wired into the entertainment-control circuits of hypermediated consumer culture. Similarly, what is called dyslexia may in many cases amount to a post-lexia. Teenagers process capital’s image-dense data very effectively without any need to read – slogan-recognition is sufficient to navigate the net-tabloid-magazine informational plane. ‘Writing has never been capitalism’s thing. Capitalism is profoundly illiterate,’ Deleuze and Guattari argued in Anti-Oedipus. ‘Electric language does not go by way of the voice or writing: data processing does without them both.’ Hence the reason why many successful business people are dyslexic (but is there post-lexical efficiency a cause or effect of their success?)

Teachers are now put under intolerable pressure to mediate between the post-literate schizo-subjectivity of the late capitalist consumer and the demands of the disciplinary regime (to pass examinations etc). This is one way in which education, far from being in some ivory tower safely inured from the ‘real world’, is the engine room of the reproduction of social reality, directly confronting the inconsistencies of the capitalist social field.

Comments are closed.