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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Finding Balance With The Wired Generation

By Peter DeWitt — July 19, 2011 3 min read
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As a boy, I was unaware that my woods were ecologically connected with any other forests. Nobody in the 1950s talked about acid rain or holes in the ozone layer or global warming. But I knew my woods and my fields; I knew every bend in the creek and dip in the beaten dirt paths. I wandered those woods even in my dreams. A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest--but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move (Louv, Last Child in the Woods)

Our students these days seem to have a real fascination with playing video games. They talk about using avatars and other games that make them feel like they are in alternative worlds. It seems as though the more real and life-like these games are, the more our students love to play them. I’d love to use more video game vocabulary, but I’ve never been much of a gamer. Truthfully, video games sort of frighten me because kids enter the video gaming world and do not come out of it for many hours.

One of the best books I have read in a long time is Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Louv writes about the fact that many of our students have a nature deficit because they are so connected. He calls them the wired generation.

A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to children under the age of 18 and made the stores that broke the law pay a $1,000 fine. The video game ruling was Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, No. 08-1448. The justices, in their 7-to-2 opinion, looked to the First Amendment when making their decision.

Justice Antonin Scalia remarked that the First Amendment protects books like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Snow White and Cinderella by allowing freedom of speech. He went on to say that cartoons like Bugs Bunny and other Saturday morning cartoons are protected under the amendment and violent video games should be provided the same protection.

It’s a stretch to compare video games to cartoons and books. Not that I’m a big fan of television dramas these days because it seems that they have the mantra that “the more graphic the better,” but comparing the two is a mistake for one clear reason. Television shows, cartoons and books allow for a passive participant. Books allow for passive reading and television shows and cartoons allow for passive viewing. In schools, where some of these books are read, we discuss the characters, plot and setting. We discuss the behavior of the characters and use them as a catalyst to talk about the differences between right and wrong.

Video games are very different. Children and adults who play these games choose to pick up the control. They become active participants in shooting innocent victims, police officers, and other criminals. They become the criminal who steals a car, speeds down roads and causes accidents where innocent victims die.

What does this mean for schools? Unfortunately the very parents who need to educate themselves on how harmful these violent games can be will never read this blog. However, parents will need to step up to the plate and learn how to say no to their children. It’s not always popular to be the adult because we often have to tell children no for reasons they may not understand until they’re older and become a parent.

Representatives of the video game industry appeared on national news programs to state that this ruling was important for every American citizen because it protects their freedom of speech. Personally, I feel that this is less about freedom of speech and more about them making billions of dollars in the gaming industry.

With the hundreds of children and parents we have in our schools, there are many who allow these games to be played. How do we, as educators, battle these violent and harmful games knowing that the Supreme Court seems not to have a problem with them?

As we take this summer to reflect on the upcoming school year, perhaps it’s a good time to draw a line in the sand. We need to make more of an effort to get kids outside during the day. In our school, we have several gardens and make an effort to get our students outside.

No matter where you teach, there must be outside activities that can be done and they are all curriculum related. Whether you go outside for science, ELA or math, we need to reacquaint our students with nature. In a time when we are inundated with conversations about teacher/administrator evaluation, high stakes testing, and violent video games, there is nothing better than going outside.

Louv, Richard. (2005). Last Child in the Woods. Algonquin Books

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.