Posted by: crudbasher | June 11, 2013

The Evolution Of Students. Literally.

I was having a really interesting conversation on Twitter the other day with @dgburris @mrwheeler and @ChristinaHank. Actually I just kind of barged into it, but hey they dropped my name in there. 🙂

The topic was about is the school system evolving and if so, is it evolving fast enough. My opinion is no, it’s not evolving. As a system it is setup to promote standardization, which by necessity discourages any sort of genetic variations. Any permutation in the system provokes a response. Sometimes it is the teacher’s union squashing charter schools. Every 8 years it is a new federal program to yoke the local systems into a nation standards system. Still, that’s not what I wanted to write about. (see The Guidance System Of Education)

I am now 40 . This means I am twice as old as a typical college student. I am officially of a different generation than them. However, this isn’t just me saying “kids these days don’t understand nothin!”. I wonder if there really are differences in our brains caused by technology.

You see, our brain is what is called a neural network. These are different from regular computers in that they are specialized in adapting to whatever conditions they have to deal with. With prolonged exposure to certain stimulus, the brain will become specialized in responses. There have been brain scans which show even certain areas of the brain will be different sizes depending on what a person’s occupation is.

When a child is very young, say before the age of 4 they have brains that are very very flexible. We call this neuroplasticity. As I understand it, this means that very young children’s brains will adapt very easily to new things. This is why we don’t have an accent in our first language. We learned it when we were very young therefore learned it perfectly. When you pick up a language later in life, you almost always have an accent because we can’t adapt as easily anymore.

When I was a kid, I had a TV with 3 channels plus maybe 2 UHF stations. If you wanted to find out a fact you had to get out an encyclopedia or go to the library. It was really a different time and therefore my generation’s brains developed differently. With the massive influx of information our kids are now exposed to, could it be evolving their brains? Will they be a slightly different species in 20 years? Maybe.

I found this really cool TED talk that sparked my thinking.

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