Hey! Richard Dreyfuss! Leave Them Kids Alone!

doc4b0537e4016b2999985969I know, I know, I know…you don’t want to hear any more about Richard Dreyfuss.  [see here and here]  Well, this will probably be it.

There seems to be a generational divide regarding Dreyfuss’s speeches.  While Dreyfuss himself has admitted that he has had difficulty reaching out to high school kids an older generation seems to be lapping up his doomsday scenarios about the future of this nation and the supposed incompetence of our youth.  But isn’t that the way it always is?: “Every generation thinks it;s the end of the world.” [Wilco]  Dreyfuss received a standing ovation earlier this week in Gettysburg after speaking at the annual commemoration of Lincoln’s address.  Geez, what a surprise given the profile of his audience.  I would love to know how many in the audience attended these same exercises when they were in high school?  More to the point, Dreyfuss’s perception of our youth clearly reflects no interaction with the very people that he claims to be so concerned about:

Tell Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to help us create games that make us more thoughtful and able to think things through instead of wasting the computer power that sent us to the moon and back on the blood-splatter of gangster video games.

And there you have it.  We are doomed because our kids are spending way too much time playing video games.  This is the same argument I heard when I was growing up.  It was idiotic then, but to suggest it now makes Dreyfuss irrelevant to the very issue that he claims to be so passionate about.  My students were eager to discuss Dreyfuss’s presentation in class.  The first question asked was what I thought about it, but there was something about the way the question was asked that stuck out.  My students wanted me to defend them, not in the sense of dismissing Dreyfuss’s comments out of hand, but more from an angle of, “Mr. Levin, are we really that bad?”  I suspect that this is why Dreyfuss is not having much success in public and private schools.

The truth is that this generation of teenagers is more connected to the world around them than at any time in this nation’s history.  They have access to information that even my generation could not conceive of in high school.  Every generation has engaged in deviant behavior that horrified their parents, but it doesn’t take much to notice that technology has placed students in the drivers seat and they are doing remarkable things with it.  There is no crisis concerning civics education or an epidemic of civic detachment among our youth any more than there was among previous generations.

To be completely honest, I am truly optimistic about the future as a result of having worked with students in various places.  That Dreyfuss received a standing ovation for the above claim about Jobs and Gates tells us much more about the speaker and his audience.  It reflects what they know about computers/technology and the broader culture.  As far as I am concerned they are already dead to the world. It doesn’t take much effort at all to see the myriad ways in which students today are connecting with others and trying to make a positive difference and they are doing it because of Jobs and Gates.

Finally, while in Gettysburg Dreyfuss unveiled his civics initiative.  Let’s be clear about this.  Dreyfuss has no initiative.  It makes absolutely no sense at all to talk about an initiative when your website looks like this.  An initiative, at the very least, includes programs, resources, and a way for individuals and organizations to communicate with one another.  All he is at this point is a traveling soothsayer.

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12 comments… add one

  • Andrea Nov 22, 2009

    It's kind of interesting that Dreyfuss would use this approach with people who are arguably at one of the most idealistic times in their lives. One would think the tack to take (keeping in mind that I'm neither an educator nor a parent) would be “Here is this glaring horrible national problem, but you are just the people to fix it and here are some things you can do.”

    Even just honest information presented by someone who's passionate about it would probably be a better bet than the usual elder generation's declaration that young people today are going to ruin the world.

  • Matt McKeon Nov 22, 2009

    Doom and gloom scenarios often have an audience. “See Here, Private Hargrove” a book written in 1941, bemoans the lack of toughness shown by what would be called “The Greatest Generation” It was ever thus. Aristophanes has a chorus of Marathon veterans(battle, not footrace) complaining about the degenerate society that is usually remembered as a high point in western civilization.

    I think instead of dismissing this enduring cultural/generational trope, ask: why is it such a constant?

  • Larry Cebula Nov 22, 2009

    Amen, Kevin. I despise the popular trend to disparage our own children, often based on no more than a few untrue anecdotes.

  • G falls Nov 22, 2009

    This the most offensive blog post I have ever seen.

    “To quote you: The truth is that this generation of teenagers is more connected to the world around them than at any time in this nation’s history” is absolutely laughable. If you call sitting on their overweight butts punching computer keys and listening to teachers like you (everyone knows that those who CAN do – those who CAN'T – teach), then, yea, sure, they're “connected” all right!

    However, those in the sane world have only to look at test scores and talk to students (I just had a teenager ask me last week if the monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield were there during the battle). Was she one of YOUR students??? Oh, yea – connected!

    You and your ignorant ilk are the cause for the brainless wonders that are coming out of schools today. This country is doomed as long as their are teachers (jokes for making a living) like you.

    God bless Richard Dreyfus! One can only imagine why you would make fun of two thousand people who “got it.” I rather guess you are proud to stand alone in your ignorance. (insert laugh here)

    • Kevin Levin Nov 22, 2009

      Thanks for taking the time to write. Actually, there is no evidence that this generation is any more or less intelligent than previous generations. It sounds like you have no experience to speak of, which is why you resort to personal insults. I don't usually allow these kinds of comments through, but you gave me a good laugh. Thanks and glad to hear that my blog has riled you up sufficiently that you would offer such feedback.

    • Brooks D. Simpson Nov 22, 2009

      “You and your ignorant ilk are the cause for the brainless wonders that are coming out of schools today. This country is doomed as long as their are teachers (jokes for making a living) like you.”

      Funny, but I always thought parents had something to do with their children's education. Thus it stands to reason that you are condemning parents … and thus the parents of their parents … until you've taken a swipe at everyone.

      Of course, that's why you posted under a false name … because you didn't care to be subjected to the same scrutiny. Should we blame you for your inability to reason dispassionately with this problem? I'd think so.

  • John Stoudt Nov 22, 2009

    Kevin:

    If I am recalling the _Gettysburg Times_ article correctly, it states that Mr. Dreyfuss received a standing ovation after his speech; the ovation was not done in reference to that single sentence. If that is the case, then I would not worry about the siginificance of it. I have attended several Dedication Day speeches, some better than others, and I think that all of the speakers received an ovation, at least out of courtesy if not for anything else.

    Regarding your opinion that “. . . they are already dead to the world,” isn't that a bit harsh? It almost reduces your commentary to an “us vs. them” argument.

    Thanks for the link to Mr. Dreyfuss' website. It does appear to be rather sparse.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 23, 2009

      That's right. He received a standing ovation for a speech that included the passage cited in the post. I apologize for the confusion. The other claim is perhaps a bit harsh, but I don't think it reduces it in the way you claim. I've already said that I support anyone who is interested in improving education across this nation.

  • Areal Nov 28, 2009

    Why so much on the attack?
    The man has a point. He is dead on.
    Maybe you should take the initiative, and ask …what you don't see or understand clearly?
    It's as simple as the words he says on Maher's you tube. Think!
    Oh, and put away your slashing red pen. You will serve any case better by offering help and assistance, wisdom and knowledge, not trifle.
    Everything has to start somewhere… why not work together as Americans, and turn the light on!
    It is about you too, author.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 29, 2009

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I teach high school history so I am in the trenches, along with thousands of other teachers, every day working together to educate. My critical pen is a reflection of just how much I care about these issues. I do believe that Dreyfuss has a point, but unfortunately, he has difficulty expressing it in front of the very audience that he hopes to excite. Thanks again.

  • jfahler Dec 12, 2009

    While I, as a teacher of both Pre-AP and “regular” freshmen at a public high school, can see what Dreyfuss is saying, I have to see it from a balanced point of view.

    On one hand, the traditionalist in me bemoans the lack of interest in education on the part of the average teenager. Yet, instead of worrying about the “commies in the USSR,” I'm concerned about the ones in China (1.3 billion of them – and note that my tongue is firmly placed in my cheek here ;)… in other words, do American high school students have what it takes to compete on the world stage, with test score comparisons as they are?

    I think it was Cornell West in _Race Matters_ who tried to address this problem with African-Americans – and pointed the finger at mass media. It's interesting that the biggest impediment to me in the classroom… mass media… is also my greatest tool.

    For this reason, I am also optimistic. I just ask for balance. And (in response to G falls), have to point the finger away from the overworked teacher and to the underinvolved parent.

    At the same time, Dreyfuss DOES have an amazing voice. I'd put him in for a #2 spot for narrating my life or something.

  • jfahler Dec 12, 2009

    While I, as a teacher of both Pre-AP and “regular” freshmen at a public high school, can see what Dreyfuss is saying, I have to see it from a balanced point of view.

    On one hand, the traditionalist in me bemoans the lack of interest in education on the part of the average teenager. Yet, instead of worrying about the “commies in the USSR,” I'm concerned about the ones in China (1.3 billion of them – and note that my tongue is firmly placed in my cheek here ;)… in other words, do American high school students have what it takes to compete on the world stage, with test score comparisons as they are?

    I think it was Cornell West in _Race Matters_ who tried to address this problem with African-Americans – and pointed the finger at mass media. It's interesting that the biggest impediment to me in the classroom… mass media… is also my greatest tool.

    For this reason, I am also optimistic. I just ask for balance. And (in response to G falls), have to point the finger away from the overworked teacher and to the underinvolved parent.

    At the same time, Dreyfuss DOES have an amazing voice. I'd put him in for a #2 spot for narrating my life or something.

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