Thursday, December 13, 2007

Literacy and life in the 21st Century…

A look at some of the problems facing young folks today…

The year is 2007 and back almost forty years ago mankind made his first tentative steps into the great unknown of space, when the USA landed the first manned mission on the moon.

The year is 2007 and scientists and astronomers have sent out Spacecraft to the furthest reaches of our Solar System mapping the regions of space out there in this region after sending back the most amazing data, both photographic and analytical to the same experts back on Mother Earth.

The year is 2007 and scientists can replicate living tissue from DNA samples.

The year is 2007 and scientists have deciphered the Human Genome from DNA samples, giving mankind the ability to read the genetic makeup of a living being and find out potential health scares for that living being throughout it’s life.

The year is 2007 and scientists, having deciphered the Human Genome, are in a position to create new artificial life forms, which can help the environmental problems facing our world today.

The year is 2007 and scientists can view objects in deep space giving us a view back into our universe’s past, almost back to the big bang theory.

The year is 2007 and scientists and mathematicians seek answers to life through an amazing array of theoretical mathematical calculations, such as String Theory, Gauge Theory, Chaos Theory, all under the banner of Quantum Mechanics.

The year is 2007 and scientists are warning of the impending catastrophic climate changes caused by Global Warming, something, which most major Governments are choosing to largely ignore or at best give it token notice in their manifestos.

The year is 2007 and scientists are experimenting with the ability to use Worm Hole Technology, which would, in theory, give mankind the ability to bend time and space enabling him to cross vast regions of space in a fraction of the time to cover these kinds of distances at present by conventional means.

The year is 2007 and scientists are experimenting with the ability to use Nanotechnology, which in theory, could create the ability to grow new limbs following accidents or giving the paralysed the ability to walk again.

All this and much, much more is present in this world, existing as it does in the year 2007 AD and yet in this country we cannot manage to enable our children to go through the education system and come out with competent literacy standards.

At the present moment in the UK we are facing a crisis of epic proportions, which if kept unchecked will create massive problems in the future. At this juncture I would like to take a little side step and point to something, which I feel strongly is contributing to the literacy of kids today. As I have spoken about in one of my first Blogs at the beginning of the year, kids no longer read comics in the vast quantities they once did in years agone. Homespun adventure Comics are no longer produced in the UK to stimulate their imaginations.

There is a general dumbing down of comics for kids, especially here in the UK. The problem is that if we look at comics produced in the late fifties here in the UK and then at what we are producing here in the UK at the present moment, and this is true of the last twenty plus years, there is a massive dumbing down in terms of both story and artwork content. This is not down to the creative teams involved but a conscious decision by the publishers and editorial, as a result of this, to create simplistic stories for "younger children".

Now my argument here is when looking at a kid in the 50's who had limited and blurry TV shows at best, little access to films, except animation ala Disney et al and yet had wonderful, photogravure, printed comic books and annuals, and, in the main to use his or her imagination to fill in most of the gaps out side of comics.

With this in mind how then were the stories both written and drawn more mature in content and the way they were crafted both in the written word and in the artwork and far superior to anything we have been allowed to produce of late (the last 20 plus years at least).

Today's kids are brought up in a world of CGI extravaganzas on the TV and at the movies and on DVD, unbelievable graphics on the new video games, design work in every product available to the general public today, high end toy manufacture, etc, etc. Why then is the content of the comics in question so lame and dumbed down?

The general excuse is children need a simplistic story to understand it and as a consequence they need simplistic artwork to accompany it. Does this then infer that the kids of today are semi-literate at best and unable to think a story through for themselves unless spoon-fed in the most simplistic ways possible? If this is so then surely we need to look at our education systems, as something is sadly going wrong, when fifty odd years ago the kids could understand quite complex stories and artwork, without the availability of the technology of today's marketplace and those of today cannot.

I read a great piece in a local newspaper the other day produced by local government (labour) here in the UK. In it, it stated that a new futuristic venture was going to be employed for secondary school age kids whereby they are going to utilise tablet technology, much like our artist's Wacom tablets. They were likened to the old-fashioned chalk tablets from years ago, before our time on this Blog.

The piece went onto say how this would revolutionise the work produced by kids as they could download information from the Internet, and they may even be able to use "text speak" like they do on their Cell/Mobile phones, with a computer gadget called "cre8txt" that is identical to a phone keypad and connects to a PC with software to translate it back into understandable English.

Is it then any wonder with government decisions like this that today's standard of literacy in the UK is in such a terrible state? Okay we may use text speak occasionally to text a loved one quickly, but with our understanding of the English language we realise where we are making short cuts.

In my role as a writer I found myself for part of the early half of 2007 working part time in a local college, helping students with essential needs in literacy (although this same problem extends into basic numeracy as well). The problem is huge, and nationwide. There are problems with English being a second or indeed third or fourth language sure in some cases, but when English is the first language and the problems still exist, then there is real cause for concern.

The problem is that by the time the kids get to college, with literacy problems, the battle is ALL-uphill for them. Colleges are trying desperately to pick up the pieces of failings within the education system at school level and government is endorsing a backward step to accepting the kids writing in text speak, which in no uncertain terms is not the English language.

What happens next do we start printing books, newspapers, magazines, and comics, what few there are now for kids, in text speak too?

Kids no longer read comics here in the UK in large numbers and this as far as I am concerned is part of the literacy problem. If kids aren't reading comics, or books and are just cutting and pasting from the Internet then what are we creating as a future workforce?

Illiteracy in the 21st century is something we should be ashamed of. Again here in the UK kid's educations are experimented with constantly at politician's whims, which by the time folks sit up and notice the kids are out there in the work place.

So rather than pandering to simplistic ideals, publishers should be making the stories and artwork more entertaining for kids, so they will sit down to read them. Government need to quickly address these mad schemes and stop the illiteracy among the kids.

All everyone needs to do is look at the past and see why the systems worked back then. It seems to me that the more advanced the few become the more we encourage the majority to achieve less.

Is this what Orwell warned us of in his book 1984? We see cameras everywhere now and our movements are tracked by the second, even this email has been logged with someone somewhere, and yet we can't figure out how to get our kids to read and write. Well this kind of tracking system is fine as long as it's done for the right reasons and as long as we do something to help the kids and get back to basics!!!

Let's stop treating kids as unable to understand anything more than SIMPLE and treat them with the respect they deserve.

We have to start looking at solving the problems and not making excuses or blaming the opposition. It may seem insignificant to someone in late middle-age or older still to look at these problems, but someone, somewhere has to realise that the kids of today are the future for mankind and although we may none of us be around to see whether what we do today as any significant impact on our future ancestors will be of any relevant and successful use to mankind in this future but surely we have to do something…?

Maybe in the UK comics publishers can look at giving the kids something more substantial and I do not refer to comics of a totally educational look. We simply have got to stop this mindless assumption regarding the simplistic approach to storytelling. If we were to adopt this stance within education then surely the outcome would go along the lines of, “we can’t give them work that will stretch the students as this can be hard…yes so is life…

Lets get the kids better prepared for life by stretching them and in turn helping them to reach their full potential, rather then end up with kids whose world comes to pieces when they are faced with the true world, a world were there are losers, where there are winners and where to get anywhere within the world takes hard graft and determination. This idiotic, false “preservation bubble” created for the kids of the last couple of decades at least has done no-one any favours by mollycoddling and giving false and misguided precepts about the world and its workings.

Something that has always puzzled me since its inception some years ago is the UK government’s decision to stop all inter school sports activities. The reasoning behind this one was to prevent boy or girl “X” who may, even in this age of PC garbage, be overweight or have little or no interest in any kind of physical pursuits and in the old viewpoint unable to take part competitively with those who did, as it was wrong to compete in this way. When we could quite easily see a similar scenario enacted by the same students where we see boy or girl “X” excelling in academic subjects and yet never having that same viewpoint forced upon them that it was wrong for academic competitiveness. After all, although schools could not compete in physical activities, academically they were expected to, as can be evidenced in the UK’s SAT’s exams and League tables, etc.

If the powers that be have decided to back track on this matter somewhat, and rightly so, then surely the same should be being done with the premise of this Blog and we should be going back to basics, with literacy both educationally and within the comics format.

WE should treat the kids with the respect they deserve as younger versions of ourselves, after all we were all their age once, and allow them to grow and flourish in the subjects they excel in and also to become competent with literacy.

We are living in the 21st century now and as such we should be moving forward, and if to do this we have to look to our past then so be it…after all shouldn’t we be leading by example and learning from our mistakes, rather than handing them over to the kids…?

I look forward to hearing anyone else’s views on the matter.

Until next time have fun!

Tim Perkins…

December13th 2007

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