This Modern Life

I was going to explain my views on yesterday’s post, but instead something came up.

Modern life leads to more depression among children… so claims an open letter to The Daily Telegraph. A range of the usual suspects are rolled out – junk food, ‘screen based entertainment’, and a lack of contact with parents and carers.

It’s actually all (well, see below) very reasonable and, reading it closely, it’s a lot less reactionary than one might expect of a letter sent to The Daily Telegraph. Well, at least the opinion piece and comments doesn’t disappoint in reactionary content with talk of a ‘sinister cocktail’ of modern life.

But, back to the letter itself. One of the points it argues against is the excessive amount of assessment in UK primary schools. The increase in assessment in UK schools does appear to have led to an increase in teaching-to-the-assessment. In particular because it’s not just the pupils who are graded based on assessments – the schools are too. So it has become in the interest of schools to focus teaching as tightly on what get assessed as possible. Not a good development, and not good for children.

I have to say that I’m not quite so sure about a couple of the points though.

First, “Since children’s brains are still developing, they cannot adjust – as full-grown adults can – to the effects of ever more rapid technological and cultural change.” Is this right? I thought it was adults that struggled to keep up with technological and cultural changes!

But the rest of the paragraph really just emphasises the need children have for a diet of good food, for play, and for quality human contact – which seem like fairly common sense points to me. The phrase “real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment)” gave me some pause for thought. The letter doesn’t say ‘computer games are bad’ or even ‘television is bad’, simply that children need “real play”.

The “as opposed to” bit got my wife and I into a serious argument discussion, however. I love playing “Guitar Hero” on my PS2 – screen entertainment all right, but is it sedentary? What about when a bunch of people are playing games together in a social environment? Is it just passive television watching that they are complaining about? I don’t agree with computer games evangelists claiming that games are near universally good and wonderful, but I’m uncomforable with this suggestion of a clear cut distinction between real play and the other kind. What is real play anyway?

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