According to this NPR report, the MacArthur Foundation is providing a $1.1 million grant to create a new middle/high school in New York with a curriculum based on video game design. The idea here is that video game design promotes a new type of literacy vital for America’s success in the rapidly growing global economy. The report stresses a shift from older models of literacy, which focus on content memorization, to the pressing need to emphasize literacy models that engage the dynamic systems inherent in newer media.
I think that this is a fantastic idea. Some may find it a nonsensical or even radical shift in education, but we have to try something new. The educational system in this country is based on a model that hasn’t really changed since the industrial revolution. Although numerous sources rank America as having one of the highest literacy rates in the world, my own anecdotal evidence collected as a high school English teacher leads me to believe that this country is in the midst of a literacy crisis that is sure to have a major impact in the country’s ability to compete with countries like India and China.
The risks here are very, very real. Literacy is not just a matter of being able to read stop signs or popular novels or wikipedia pages–literacy is what informs the content of our cultural, social, and political discourse. And beyond the economic issues presented in our difficulty competing in fields like science and engineering–an issue that the MacArthur Foundation’s grant may help address–the everyday rhetoric in this country has become drastically dumbed-down, polarized, reduced to hackneyed platitudes and snappy sound-bites. Political and cultural discourse now consists of empty catch-phrases and meaningless psychobabble. I mean, it’s like totally gay, know what I’m sayin’?
This clip from Mike Judge’s satire Idiocracy neatly sums up the future of verbal discourse in America: