The Ambler

Amble's Community Newspaper: News & events from Amble in Northumberland – The Kindliest Port.

Age of insecurity : impending doom

Are we really living in an age of distraction?

Harry McQuillen

Harry McQuillen

Throughout history, people have claimed that young people can’t concentrate as well as they did when they were young, that they can’t remember as much as people used to and that they can’t write as well. Spelling, handwriting and coherence of argument have all deteriorated.
I’ve been thinking about these issues and recalling thoughts from the past. Apparently Socrates complained that writing things down would reduce the need to memorise and recall the precise argument.
At every stage of human history there have been stark warnings of impending doom in connection with educational standards. My parents told me how much rote learning they had to do. Perhaps the teachers had found a way to save paper.
In my day (formal schooling from 1938 to 1952) we were expected to memorise quite a lot – some of it useful, some not. The odd thing is that I can still make myself understood in French, having had no lessons since 1952.
There’s a place for recall of facts, of bits of poetry, of logical arguments, of many of the things we were taught. But I’m convinced that most real learning concerns the things that interest us – the things we want to know.
I’d hate to be a university tutor, especially in subjects that involve lots of words and ideas. How do you spot plagiarism? Hang on a minute! These clever, talented young people I see using laptops and touch screens seem to me to be very good at concentrating, at searching, at producing written work of high quality.
Surely what matters is output. If you can produce high quality work, does it matter where it comes from? A brief discussion of a piece of work will show you clearly whether the writer really knows what it is about.
Apparently productivity in the UK lags behind that of some other countries. I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve shutting down every factory in sight and reducing our workforce to minimum level; answers on a postcard please.
A lovely man called Kev put a very useful grab rail outside my front door this morning. He came from Poppy Calls, an offshoot of the Royal British Legion. Poppy Calls does all sorts of jobs around the house for anyone who did military service. Two smoke alarms and a carbon monoxide alarm are now installed in my home. If you are interested you can call free on 0800 032 0306 for advice and help.
by Harry McQuillen

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