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Wasteland? That was then.

September 17, 2011

Fifty years ago, a man with the unenviable name of Newton Minow (“Sounds like double bait,” a co-worker said) called television “a vast wasteland.”

Minow is a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and he knew whereof he was speaking.

TV was a wasteland back then, and it’s sad to realize that it is worse now. Much worse. When Minow made his statement, Dionne Warwick hadn’t hooked up with her Psychic Friends Network; Snooki hadn’t been born, much less wandered around the Jersey Shore; and fried chicken was a home-cooked Sunday afternoon treat, not something Rachael Ray served up to her studio audience atop bacon waffles. (Yeah, that one sounded good to me, too; so, here’s the recipe.)

Minow was back in the news this week, thanks to the Obama administration’s plans to incorporate more digital learning in classrooms through a new center called Digital Promise. (For a full story on the project and its intentions, see this article from USA Today.)

According to reporter Greg Toppo’s story:

“Given the power of this technology, the administration believes that we should be doing everything we can to take advantage of it,” said Tom Kalil of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. While he acknowledged that games and online learning aren’t “a silver bullet for education,” he said the Obama administration wants to support “the ways in which technology can really make a dramatic impact on student performance and student outcomes.”

One learning program involves students developing new layers of the popular video game series, Portal.


I wish when I was in school that I could have worked with others to build on to Monopoly (and picked up some more fundamental business skills) or Risk (and learned about geography and world history). Candyland could have included some baking tips, which can easily translate into chemistry. Masterpiece, a favorite of mine, could have involved more art history and a glimpse into the greater collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, which is where all of the paintings in the game can be found.

Obviously, I come from an older generation, one that played board games and not  video games. Sure, we hand pinball, but that was expensive and, well, I was fairly prone to tilting the machine.

But there was no way of incorporating my ideas into expanding a game further, at least not in the way that these kids will be able to do, all the while learning aspects of the technology that goes into the creation of these new electronic worlds, thereby fostering another generation of game builders as well as players. And who knows what other technological areas could open for some of these students. Programs to understand the workings of the heart better? Ways of generating cleaner energy? How about a better mousetrap? (I wonder if mice would be attracted to holographic cheese?)

Congress approved the funding for this educational step forward several years ago, so don’t expect it to get log-jammed in the current partisan noise that’s polluting Washington air.

Minow seemed to have the incessant bickering on his mind when he told USA Today: “Our country has so many problems. … I think the answer to many of them is found in education.”




From → #CMC11

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