Video Games: New Way of Being in the World

10 01 2007

Article abstract published by Columbia University’s Teachers College Record online, by a Wisconsin prof of “cognition, learning and literacy”:

Virtual Worlds, Learning, & the New Pop Cosmopolitanism
by Constance Steinkuehler — November 17, 2006

American schools largely remain locked within a Ford type factory model of industry and efficiency; games, on the other hand, are forward leaning, recruiting intellectual practices, dispositions, and forms of social organization that are aligned with many of today’s “new capitalist” workplaces. Massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), in particular, function as naturally occurring, self-sustaining, indigenous online communities of learning and practice, and our study of them can tell us something important about how such communities form and function out “in the wild” (Hutchins, 1995).

Perhaps most interesting, however, is the constellation of intellectual practices that constitute gameplay in such spaces and the way these coalesce into a form of cosmopolitanism found in the least likely of places: the context of pop culture. Games are incubators of a new pop cosmopolitanism–a discourse, or “way of being in the world” (Gee, 1999), marked by a willingness and ability to navigate an increasingly globalized, diverse, networked, socio-technical world. If our world is indeed becoming increasingly “flat” (Friedman, 2005), then gaming communities such as those found in MMOs are, in some respects, our proverbial canaries in the coalmine.

There is a great generational divide on the matter of video games. For those older than 35 or so, games are, at best, an unfortunate waste of time and, at worst, Trojan horses introducing our youth to violent, misogynistic themes. For those younger, they are a (if not the) leading form of entertainment, a resource for creativity and innovation, and a new campfire around which to socialize.

While public figures such as Hillary Clinton urge concerned parents to effectively boycott such media that “offend their values and sensibilities” (Clinton, 2005), their popularity with children and young adults only continues to increase (Ipsos-Insight, 2005), with more than eight out of every 10 kids in America having a video game console in the home, and over half having two or more (Rideout, Roberts, & Foehr, 2005). The National Endowment for the Arts (Bradshaw & Nichols, 2004) bemoans the huge cultural transformation of “our society’s massive shift toward electronic media” (video games given as the quintessential example) that purportedly “make fewer demands on their audiences…require no more than passive participation, … [and] foster shorter attention spans” than do print media; yet, the gamers I research engage in rich intellectual practices that rival those found in contemporary classrooms, build social capital through participation in online communities, and report on the transformative role that video games play in their social and intellectual lives.

Is Truth Important?

10 01 2007

Harry Frankfurt, author of “On Bullshit” and now of its sequel “On Truth”, is Jon Stewarts’ guest interview on the Daily Show tonight.

He seems like he’s really thinking about each question seriously, trying to answer it thoughtfully and –dare we say it? — truthfully?

Did I Mention GO GATORS???

8 01 2007

Watching now, biting nails and lips and whooping and hollering . . .

Updates as the night wears on, I am worn out already but it’s a nice point to mention my affiliation, since we are up at the end of the first quarter by TWO TOUCHDOWNS and looking good!

Tim Tebow, one of the new Gator stars, was homeschooled in Florida, by the way — and played sports at school under our congenial, nondiscriminatory laws . . .Boyfriend who is a lifelong fan of our bitter in-state rival FSU, where we live, is here with us and he amiably donned my personal 1996 national championship orange and blue jacket for the duration. (Smart boy!) FavD has on my orange satin one, embroidered with Albert on the breast pocket.

UPDATE – the lead is now TWENTY points at the half, unbelievable. I am waiting for the “conventional wisdom” to eat some crow, or gator bait, or whatever . . . okay, the tv commentators have given some (not enough) credit where due, I’ll allow. But don’t think I’m counting my championship before it hatches, I’ve been a Gator fan too long not to know better than that, about 45 years now . . .oh, look, it’s the Pride of the Sunshine marching band! I watched them in person every game for almost 20 years . . . and they’re doing BOOGIE WOOGIE!

UPDATE II – Just sang We Are the Boys as third quarter closed, still 20 points up, so weird!@!!!!!!!!

UPDATE III – it is 11:39 pm. We just scored again and I have lost my voice. I suddenly believe. This is where the danger is . . . but I really am beginning to believe we will make history tonight, with the first ever double national titles at the same time held by the same university. A 27-point lead in the fourth should be good enough? But as DH just reminded me “You can’t celebrate yet” . . .

ADDENDUM – or as the announcer just noted, it would be triple titles this year for Gator Nation – football, basketball, and Dancing with the Stars!

FINAL – what a final. And the ESPN guys just ate the crow and showed the Gators(and the South) the love. It’s been over for 15 minutes and it’s tomorrow already, wonder if it’s safe to celebrate yet? Night all . . .

“EVERYBODY Has an Interesting Education”

8 01 2007

“All kids have tremendous talents and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly. . .Creativity is as important in education these days as literacy and we should treat it with the same status . . .Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go! If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original . . .children are born artists (but) we’re educating people OUT of their creative capacities.”

Sir Ken Robinson speaks with a charming accent and some very funny lines — pictures of God, Shakespeare as a child, university professors, musical theatre choreographers as learning-disabled (Gillian isn’t sick, she’s a dancer!”) — adding up to a serious message about how School stigmatizes creative thought and academically standardizes it, and thereby screws up the whole world.
This video seems a better lesson in real creativity than whatever School is teaching and testing as “arts education.” Quiz me if you want, nobody made me but I watched it three times. . . 🙂

(Hat tip to Sandra Dodd)

Learning the Hard Way – Wrap

7 01 2007

We all just got home from the celebration in honor of our dance teacher’s life and work. I updated the original post with a brief report, for all those in his extended family who couldn’t come in person (although one of his old musical theatre friends flew in from Washington State!) but have been faithfully checking in here.

Oprah and Her Girls

5 01 2007

Blogging Oprah’s new prep school in the Kitchen, no holds barred, drop in to play if you dare —
What if Michael Jackson did EXACTLY what Oprah is doing …oh wait …

Not News That Play Works

4 01 2007

Time to say it again!
Play’s the Thing. Snook says it here, not to mention here and also here, among many odes to play as real-life learning. Work is just, well, work.

This isn’t news. Thinking Parents know it, academics and college recruiters know it, little kids know it, psychologists know it, preachers and politicians certainly OUGHT to know it (but maybe they were themselves stunted by clockwork and schoolwork?)

Play makes children nimble—neurobiologically, mentally, behaviorally—capable of adapting to a rapidly evolving world. That makes it just about the best preparation for life in the 21st century. Psychologists believe that play cajoles people toward their human potential because it preserves all the possibilities nervous systems tend to otherwise prune away…

There’s only one graduation requirement and over 95 percent of students meet it. They have to write and present a thesis about how they’re prepared to be an adult. It takes time to write, even more time to figure out.

…Students have become lute-makers, auto technicians, musicians, equestrian-farmers, dedicated environmentalists. Some have started their own companies at 18. Others take retail or service jobs to get money for travel abroad…Most make college a deliberate choice on their own timetable—82 percent enroll within six years of graduation—not something they simply hurtle on to, driven by parental expectations…

— Hara Estroff Marano in “Psychology Today” May/June 2006, sizing up Sudbury Valley School

Mac co-inventor Paul Graham is more practical than academic but he knows it too:

By the time they reach an age to think about what they’d like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one’s work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. . .

Actually they’ve been told three lies:

  • the stuff they’ve been taught to regard as work in school is not real work
  • grownup work is not (necessarily) worse than schoolwork, and
  • many of the adults around them are lying when they say they like what they do.

The most dangerous liars can be the kids’ own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. . .

If you think something’s supposed to hurt, you’re less likely to notice if you’re doing it wrong.

These are the staples in my idea pantry. Learning is fun, not work. Schooling is work, not education.

Favorite Daughter has never been to school (though she now plays at college) precisely because I believe school screws up such lessons as these, and all the hapless folks who receive them.. .Defining heaven as reach that exceeds one’s grasp wasn’t really about reaching for ever-better-paying contract clauses — was it?

I see dutiful young people turning Heaven into Hell no matter what their circumstances or working conditions, because that’s all they know, because that’s what they’ve been taught by their parents and school and life and society, because they can’t believe in anything else:
“If you think something’s supposed to hurt, you’re less likely to notice if you’re doing it wrong.”

For the young who want to

3 01 2007

For the young who want to
by Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

See what Lorraine has to say about this find in the Kitchen today . . .I read her blogpost aloud to Favorite Daughter, and surprise, she knows Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing!” She read it last term at college. It literally (and literarily) thrills me that FavD is the modern incarnation of that nose-in-her-book college literature student of 30 years ago, who Lorraine described herself as having once been, and that FavD thus might grow up to be thrilled herself 30 years hence, remembering a woman’s story from today and telling more young women in turn of its import “in terms so firm and plain as to command their assent.”

Power of Family Fire?

2 01 2007

I’ve been bustling around today, fresh in my maternal, circadian resolve to wrap up the holiday hibernation and get back in the swing of our usual routines and schedules in time for college and dance classes, street clothes instead of robes and slippers, etc.

We finally had a cold front come through last night, after a muggy holiday with no excuse for a friendly wood fire.

So as I was getting to the end of my bustly day — groceries put away and errands complete, happily bringing in hours worth of wood and laying the fire I was so eager to light when work was done and I could relax — it struck me that compared to my grandmother’s mountain childhood, my fire was very different. Fire once was part of hard work for mom, not an end-of-day treat for an indulged mom to enjoy like a cat.

I am SO much like my southern grandmother yet our experience of and ideas about fire for the family at home, are practically opposite.

Her mom’s fire 100 years ago was constant all day, part of the housework for cooking, heating water for laundry and bathing, tending young children and doing other chores nearby. In my mom’s Florida house in the 1970s, lighting a fire was holiday indulgence and infrequent enough to be really special, only when we were all home long enough to bother, which was hardly ever between school and work for us all. My dad never much liked having a fire even to gather around and relax; when she thought I was old enough, Mom explained how poor his family had been hence how un-special the work of homefires was to him.

For all of us the woodfire itself is remarkably the same, unchanged in 100 years. The power of its story is not.

We never even lived in a house with a fireplace until I was in junior high, and most of my friends didn’t back then. Now we know older folks who are grandparents, many in very fancy golf course homes with 16-foot high foyers and crown moulding to beat the band, and screened swimming pools and lawn service. No fireplace, or a little pretend gas-flame atmospheric thing maybe, symbolic more than functional. No wood, no ash, no heat and most ostentatiously no work at ALL.

I’m sitting idly in front of a wonderful fire right now, doing as my grandmother never did (blogging!) so I’m not thinking incisively perhaps — but I sense power of story for what’s happened to our ideas of education in 100 years. Schoolwork seems to combine the flashy-fake symbolic show of cool and clean-control gas fires, with the bootstrap blessing of endured inevitability as virtue,  like woodfires in that old Blue Ridge Mountain cabin — an awful lot of work all day every day, only to get up and repeat it all the next day, and the next, world without end amen.

Like a cross between the worst of my grandmother’s family fire and mine, both inevitable and irrelevant? I think I’d rather combine the BEST from the two experiences instead . . . dozing off now . . .

Optimism Anyone?

1 01 2007

The Edge has an encouraging way to start the new year. Enjoy!

The Edge Annual Question — 2007


The nearly 160 responses to this year’s Edge Question span topics such as string theory, intelligence, population growth, cancer, climate and much much more. Contributing their optimistic visions are a who’s who of interesting and important world-class thinkers.


1 01 2007

It’s almost midnight on December 31, just wanted to wish everyone a happy new year. We were drinking some nice red wine from 1997 and playing Apples to Apples with the kids (and Favorite Daughter’s boyfriend) at home, and now we’re watching a DVD movie he brought, Hithchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There’s a big open celebration with fireworks downtown on the plaza by the Capitol, first year ever, but it’s been pouring rain for hours and no way any of us will be going out in this. Still getting used to this boyfriend thing, but I have to say I’d rather have them here than out on the road, and I’m doing better than her dad!