Monday, August 27, 2007

"Did You Know?" Still Sucks

As teachers around the country are being shown the revamped Did You Know slideshow, I'd like to take a moment to point out that it still sucks, it just sucks more accurately than before.

The show starts with a few slides that introduce the threat of the loss of American hegemony, using the rapid growth of China and India, and the 20th century decline of Great Britain. This part used to be much longer. The remainder introduces a theme (an empire in decline, the East ascendent) which is quickly dropped.

The presentation then shifts into a brief discussion of the number of jobs students are likely to have in their futures and the uncertainty about their nature. This is why "lifetime learning" is already in the mission statement of every school district in America, but perhaps some folks need a refresher.

Then we get into the longest and strongest part of the show, reviewing the extent of the growth of the internet and other communication technologies, and the general media immersion of kids today. The whole presentation should probably just focus on this aspect.

Then the predictive point of view shifts and you get into some Ian Jukes/George Gilder/Ray Kurzweil stuff about exponential growth in bandwidth and processing power. Fair enough; we'll see soon enough if they're right. But if they are, how much does that change the implications of the rest of the piece? If we've got super-intelligent computers designing self-replicating robots, do we need to worry about the Chinese and Indians? If you really believe these predictions, you need to lead with them and build the rest of the presentation around them. If you're not that confident in them, leave them out.

I don't think these criticisms are unreasonable, and I think if this was an 11th grade research paper, any good English teacher would make the same comments. Since it is a viral web video, it just seems to bypass certain filters.

The larger problem is that this presentation seems to be trying to focus the viewer on certain problems facing our future, but I'd argue that it points to the wrong one. As the parent of a seven-month old daughter, I'm worried about two overarching issues:

  • Climate change and environmental degradation.
  • The collapse of American democracy.

So apparently, what we need is a really good PowerPoint about those issues... hm... where could I find such a thing? Of course, a lot of schools won't show An Inconvenient Truth because we're already in a crisis of American democracy. Did you know that?


DRS said...

I'd say it sucks as much as Inconvenient Truth sucks. If you're definition of "sucks" means it may not be pointing us in the right direction, there are lots of arguments and better ones that would suggest Gore is doing the same things.

My point is that these presentations should evoke some discussion. Unlike Inconvenient Truth, Did you Know, has never claimed to be much more than that.

Love your candidness.

Chris Lehmann said...

You realize that you posted this *as* we were watching it as a faculty... *harumpf*

I feel better that a) we watched ICT as an entire school (and had a Gore-trained facilitator work with us for a few weeks with it) and b) we watched Ken Robinson's TED Talk immediately after it.

I think, as Dean said, DYK should start conversations, not end them. For example, there's no mention of *how* our schools should change in the piece, and you know my refrain -- we need to talk about the pedagogy.

Tom Hoffman said...


What do you think inspired my post? ;-)


Chris Lehmann said...

This is what I get for trying to be transparent. :)