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I grew up in during the 1980s. If reading skills aren't in fact in decline, shouldn't the burden of proof be on the tech critics?


Just a point on your abundance of over achievers line: the "grind school" and strict time management of those seeking to do well in the "highly structured" admissions process means that those that need to meet these admissions criteria, are de-facto managing their time in activities that gain points.

Ed Schlesinger

Students NEED an environment, platform, tools that THEY can leverage for their own benefit. They have to create it, mold it to their own personal advantage as no one method fits all.


Scott Yates

If people don't know Latin, then they may not know the roots of words. Like 'peto' and 'filos' gives us the word 'pedophile.'


No, it's better to have some Latin. It enhances the enjoyment of language, reading and logical thought.


So u didn't take Latin, or took it but didn't get it. My Bronx Science daughter has been taking Latin since 5th grade. A senior now, maybe translating Vergil wasn't the most fun thing she did, but translate she did. Maybe learning about an ancient culture seems ridiculous to some, but it opens doors for others. Forget that it helps with word origins, learning the language and culture does much more for a chid, Along with thousands of fb friends, her twitter acct, her loving iMac, her theater reviews, tv chats and everything else she does, she studies Latin. No reason to put that down.

Roger Travis

Good lord, why does Latin have to take it on the chin because of this faux-"charismatic" Latin teacher?

I beg of you, take a look at what my team and I are doing to demonstrate how relevant the ancient world and its languages are to the very foundations of critical thinking that will let these students comprehend that text.


Aaron B.

You made a lot of good points until the cheap shot at Latin. Latin is the foundation of many modern languages, so learning Latin gives you a strong foundation for other language studies. The structured grammar of Latin trains the mind for organization and logic. Latin introduces you to the classics, from Virgil and Caesar to medieval theologians and Gregorian chant.

In short, learning Latin isn't about how many people you can talk to, any more than you study algebra because you expect to spend a lot of your adulthood calculating the values of polynomials. It's about learning to think.

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On a totally unrelated note. I was reading 'The Ghost Map' - Latest Edition. There is a typographical error on page 237. 1 row above the last row. It says 'Poplation' instead of 'Population'. Great book by the way!

Laurel L. Russwurm

In my day, newspapers whined about kids rotting their brains from too much TV, or worried that violent films would turn kids into axe murderers.

Latin, which was an enormously rich experience for me, is no longer taught at my son's High School here in Ontario. Instead, High School "programming" courses are in reality proprietary software training. Quite frankly, Latin was a better deal.

My kid doesn't much like the proprietary Dreamweaver program (foisted on students by the school board) since it can't produce compliant web pages; so he hand codes XHTML instead. He doesn't use Facebook or Twitter, just IRC. His ComTech teacher is disappointed that his University applications are all for Medieval Studies.

All schools are different, as are all kids.

Vic Kley

Having only read this blog, your bio and your book "Where Good ideas come from" I am surprised at your comment on Latin and your Apology appended to yesterday's blog.

Steven Berlin Johnson is an English major and apparently has never asked the accomplished programmers like Berners Lee he praises what is the best background for a good to great programmer, in high school or college.

You haven't a clue!

Ask someone you respect who has done something special like the google guys or the boys down the street at Pixar. I won't waste my time telling you something you'll put down or ignore.


I couldn't agree more about Vishal. He's using the creative tools available to him on the internet to develop real, high-level skills, and the school complains that he doesn't quietly lap up its standard-issue, mediocrity-guarantying curriculum? Why should he?

But he does need to read. Whoever in the article noted that he can't write films if he doesn't read is correct. If I were his parent, I'd take him out of school entirely so that he didn't have to choose between filmmaking and reading; he'd have time for both without wandering the school halls wasting his time for 7 hours a day.

I might agree entirely that the time that school-age kids spend tied to screens these days is a problem, but I don't believe that Vishal is representative of the problem.

Joe Riener

I'm a high school English teacher. I have students texting all the time in class. I've just finished "Everything Bad ...." I find the argument pursuasive. I extropolate the book's idea for the cognitive value of student texting. When they text, my students' minds are active, aware,connecting, expressive of what they are thinking and feeling at that moment. They may not be as absorbed in Hamlet or Huck Finn as I would prefer, but they ain't bored or dead-minded. I've found I've been able to bring them into the discussion, or focus them on my ideas, if they are using language themselves."Go ahead, text away," I tell them in September. I love their subsequent incredulous stare, the possibilities it portends of their interest in what else I might say in the coming months.


These young people are being evaluated based on a dead/dying F.W. Taylor-influenced model (do one thing at a time and finish one thing before moving on to the next thing)- this is dead & overwith & the jobs based on it have long since flown the coop.
We would do well not to guilt-jerk and harangue them about what they're doing. We should make sure they stay safe, take care of their needs and yes, make Latin texts available, but these kids are off and running with What's Next. Unless we have a better idea in this country, we need to be a LOT more supportive of what they're into.

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I had to refresh the page 2 times to view this page for some reason, however, the information here was worth the wait.


Really enjoyed this as I constantly have struggled with my belief that the kids are, in fact, all right and that they will figure it out.

Example: My son after getting back into studying and good grades told me that he would have done so sooner if we had pulled him out of his World of Warcraft and Deviant Art sessions.

I pointed out to him that this was where he learned Photoshop along with 3D modeling and animation software and the fact that he pulled himself out of that world was a more important achievement. He's now a freshman at college getting good grades and multitasking like a madman.

The point is that sometimes this all feels like my parents' generation complaining about that loud longhair music and how it was going to destroy culture. Well in fact, it did to a degree, but to say that these new values are somehow less important and less relevant than existing values reflects a lack of confidence and a loss of historical perspective


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As a recent graduate - and a pretty successful one - I can say personally that an Internet addiction has its pros and cons. Applying for jobs now, the skills and knowledge that come most in handy, besides general writing and speaking skills, were learned online. My knowledge of the Internet, social media, and tech are much more important in applying for work than what I know about Hegel (I studied philosophy).


I'm going to go out on a limb and say a core purpose to education is to provide a framework for critical thinking: a lense to view life and the world and the means to use, adjust, change and update that lense. However brief the commo on facebook and some social media, taken in context, in a whole, how different is the blog and the networked elements of social media from classroom essays and notes passed in the hall? I'll admit it, I went to HS in the 80s, manhattan, at a school focused on math and science, so my norm's a little skewed. The point remains, that learning takes place on many platforms, and rote memorization of repetative tasks is only a small portion. Perhaps we need to update our model to suit our current times and future needs, vs. preserve what may have outlived some usefullness. You know, let's stop smashing looms and lamenting the loss of the independent weaver, because maybe this thing called technology can work for us? And maybe both have a position that is workable, it just needs reworking?


Definitely, ol' chum.

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Fully agreed with your points on this post.


LOL I have to agree. I grew up in the 60s when I, as a girl in high school, wasn't allowed to take drafting, but had to take home ec. I hated home ec (still do). That's about as educational as basketweaving and much less exciting.

Schools are, in general, so far behind technology. Kids get a more technological education at home than they do at school, usually (not 100%, but the avg kid).

I spent my algebra studying time collecting insects and drawing/studying them. Failing my first year of algebra didn't hurt my getting invited to study physics at a local university, a subject I'd never taken in my life, nor getting a job in R&D.

I'm a firm believer that timing is everything and sometimes the time just isn't "ripe" for us to ace algebra. I believe that the "adjacent possible" for kids, now and in the future, is allowing them to obsess. Where would we be if Einstein hadn't had time to obsess over those silly math equations?

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I'm a father of three boys, husband of one wife, and author of nine books, host of one television series, and co-founder of three web sites. We split our time between Brooklyn, NY and Marin County, CA. Personal correspondence should go to sbeej68 at gmail dot com. If you're interested in having me speak at an event, drop a line to Wesley Neff at the Leigh Bureau (WesN at Leighbureau dot com.)

My Books

  • Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

    Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
    A history of innovation accompanied by a 6-part TV series on PBS and the BBC, this was the first of my books to crack the top 5 on the NY Times bestseller list. Appropriately for a book that celebrates diverse networks, this was the most collaborative of any of my books. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age

    Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
    My first book-length attempt to organize my writings about emergence and networks into something resembling a political philosophy, which I called Peer Progressivism. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

    Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
    An exploration of environments that lead to breakthrough innovation, in science, technology, business, and the arts. I conceived it as the closing book in a trilogy on innovative thinking, after Ghost Map and Invention. But in a way, it completes an investigation that runs through all the books, and laid the groundwork for How We Got To Now. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Invention of Air

    The Invention of Air
    The story of the British radical chemist Joseph Priestley, who ended up having a Zelig-like role in the American Revolution. My version of a founding fathers book, and a reminder that most of the Enlightenment was driven by open source ideals. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Ghost Map

    The Ghost Map
    The story of a terrifying outbreak of cholera in 1854 London 1854 that ended up changing the world. An idea book wrapped around a page-turner. I like to think of it as a sequel to Emergence if Emergence had been a disease thriller. You can see a trailer for the book here. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

    Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter
    The title says it all. This one sparked a slightly insane international conversation about the state of pop culture -- and particularly games. There were more than a few dissenters, but the response was more positive than I had expected. And it got me on The Daily Show, which made it all worthwhile. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

    Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life
    My first best-seller, and the only book I've written in which I appear as a recurring character, subjecting myself to a battery of humiliating brain scans. The last chapter on Freud and the neuroscientific model of the mind is one of my personal favorites. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

    Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
    The story of bottom-up intelligence, from slime mold to Slashdot. Most of my books sold more copies than this one, but Emergence has influenced the most eclectic mix of fields: political campaigns, web business models, urban planning, the war on terror. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate

    Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
    My first. The book I wrote instead of finishing my dissertation, predicting the growing cultural significance of interface and information design. Still relevant, I think. But I haven't read it in a while, so who knows what's in there! (Available from IndieBound here.)

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