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Kids are quotable for all the wrong reasons

Recent Community columnists
Jan 02, 2014
January 07, 2014 | 03:59 PM
A year or two ago, when the University of Wisconsin returned to the Rose Bowl for a repeat performance, a news conference was held the day before the rematch with some of the team’s athletes. They were asked several questions, most of which were directed toward the fact that only the year before, UW had been beaten. Most of the members of the press were curious to know how this year’s players felt about that, especially since they now had a “second chance” to redeem themselves, as well as the reputation of the UW football program.

During the ensuing interview period, this general question was put to each of the three athletes at the press table. It should be remembered that all the players present were seniors, who had attended a Big Ten university for four years. The answer that made the deepest impression was that from the player seated to the far left of the others. When he was asked, “What is the mood of your teammates going into tomorrow’s game, knowing that you lost when you were here last year?” the aspiring young athlete smiled broadly and blurted out: “It has gave us pump and juice.”

One would have hoped for a slightly more articulate answer, but this was the only one the questioner was going to get. “Have you ever seen the inside of a classroom?” might have been a logical follow-up interrogatory.

In that same year, UW-Whitewater won its second consecutive Division III NCAA football championship. Understandably, the players were ecstatic about this achievement. One of the starters on the team was a lineman from Kenosha. And the Kenosha News was quick to interview him and get his reaction to the Warhawk’s victory. Again it is important to keep in mind that this young man was a senior, just having completed what he described as a degree program in “occupational safety.” One of the questions put to him was this: “Now that the season is over and you are scheduled to graduate in the spring, what are your plans for the future.” He answered that he did not think he was ever going to play competitive football again, but that he wanted to find some way to stay close to the game he loved so much. “Because football is very fun.” No doubt. It would seem that is was a good deal more interesting than any of his “course work.”

Dr. Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University in Atlanta, studied this phenomena of university students and their failure to express themselves, either verbally or in writing.

He wrote a book about his findings, entitled “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans.” He concluded that “The digital age has changed the way kids learn, but at the expense of literacy and cultural awareness.”

Dr. Don Campbell is a fellow colleague at Emory and teaches journalism. He has his own experience to offer. Each year Dr. Campbell asks his students several questions, just to get a bit of insight into who they are and what their interests might be. Most startling was the frequent admission that almost none of them read books and that “most have a knowledge of history that extends no further into the past than perhaps their years in junior high school.”

This may not be as surprising as it first appears. In an article published in the Chicago Tribune, it was reported that a Kaiser Family Foundation study had found that those in the 8- to 18-year-old age group “listen to music, play video games and use the computer for fun shopping seven hours and 38 minutes a day, on average — more if they use more than one medium at a time ...” On average!

In order to summarize this sad state of affairs, listen to one particularly telling response gleaned from a recent Pew Research survey. The answer is from a young lady who was asked this question: “Why does social networking hold such an attraction for you?”

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“It sounds stupid and everything but like once you like get into it it’s really like addicting —just like everything. Like you have your song and like you write like all this stuff about yourself and like all my friends basically have it. So like we always like read each other’s pages and like call each other and like kind of, and like you put like 300 pictures up so ... people’s pictures and stuff and comments.”

When the last emperor of china, Pu Yi, questioned his English tutor about just why he had to work so hard learning language and communication, he received this answer: “If you cannot say what you mean, Majesty, you cannot mean what you say.

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