Do kids provide a role for paper?

It is easy to circumvent news and information written on paper entirely. I for instance solely read online foreign newspapers. My wife does the same. Until very recently, I also cut back on any subscriptions to hard copies of anything, including academic journals. The family’s consumption of information was thus all electronic. We even no longer watched normal television because of the annoying adds and instead we simply rented or downloaded content without advertising.

Yet, there was a cost to all this efficient low-cost information consumption that we were not aware of and that made us radically switch back to hard copies when we became aware of it: our kids were not exposed to any news, scientific discoveries, or political debates. They saw us reading websites but would not themselves stumble across those websites. They heard us debate in terms that were so foreign to what they knew that they treated our debates similar to how I would treat overhearing conversations in ancient Sanskrit.

Thus, whilst we parents got our fix of real information, our kids never stumbled across the right material and instead became expert online gamers and exceedingly well versed in everything Star Trek.

Realising that we were raising kids with no knowledge of real news, scientific discoveries, or the world of informed debate, we radically switched. We now as a family watch regular television news (though not the US or Australian variety), have subscriptions to hard copies of Science magazines, and we have subscriptions to political debate magazines.

It has to be said, these magazines suck. They are full of opinionated mistakes, especially when it concerns social phenomena. Also, there is nothing in these magazines that is not available for free online. Indeed, what is available online, if you know where to look, is of far higher quality.

But, to our delight, the kids read the magazines in the toilet or browse through them when they come home from school. They now know who Osama Bin Laden is; what the difference is between Sufism and Salafism; that physicists increasingly think multiple universes exist; and that there was an unpunished humanitarian tragedy in Sri Lanka in 2009.

So, stuff ipads, kindles, and other e-readers! In order to get kids aware of what is going on in this world, you have to make sure they accidentally stumble across physical objects that they hold in their hands and that they see the parents read. Sure, you can try to remember to put kindles in the way of your kids that have the right newspaper articles in them, but think of the effort that would require. Much easier to pay subscription fees and litter the house with paper.

Of course, once the habit of being interested in science, history, and debate is ingrained, we will forego this farce and return to a paper-free environment. By then, we will have plenty of glossy toilet paper.

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Dennis Argall
9 years ago

I agree but suggest that the issue is not new though perhaps now more invasive of the reading class than before. My youngest born 1983 so my perspective goes back to the 1950s with largely book free home with newspapers and dogmas, not so different from many now, though also then with parents with combined total of three years high school but ambitions for kids. Getting hold of the New Scientist and BBC’s The Listener saved my brain. I was very conscious of bringing up kids in a soup of books more than magazines, of reading all manner of things aloud to them. Also, noting the rather elevated knowledge modalities and values your kids seem to be acquiring :-) they learned cooking from me, to use powwer tools, to grow plants, to get a sense of the diversityof fields of human activity all honourable or otherwise.

It seems to me that the wholesale need of education now, extending from home to peers to school, needs to build curiosity, the foundation of the hunt to read or learn by other means. To build capacity to know what facts may be and how to test them. Ditto beliefs and arguments. There is evidence of declining performance on national education measures andanecdotally of rapid deterioration in many classrooms with kids staying at school and put up each year regardless of performance. But I doubt the politicobureaucratic instinct to solve this by more regimentation will have good effect. Inspiration, role modeling ubiquitously, engagement and connection and space andencouragement to see the vlue of an informed and engaged life. But it’s hard and I note your (and my) quarantine of mainstream crappitude and mindless meme-building of the mainstream. Kids also somehow have to connect with that mainstream, to speak a language understood and influential.

wilful
wilful
9 years ago

Here’s a funny anecdote – I was in Aldi the other week and there were all these colourful reference books aimed at the 8 – 15 year old market on a range of things, such as sharks, volcanoes, ancient rome etc etc. They were $3 each so I picked up a dozen or so. But the woman next to me looked at the offerings scornfully and said “oh that’s all on the internet these days” – as if some kid is just going to cruise through Wikipedia and find out all of this interesting stuff on their own. I don’t think so.

wilful
wilful
9 years ago

Also, I grew up reading my parents newspapers – but there’s no way in hell I’m buying the tripe they put in newspapers today to try to edumacate my kids.

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
9 years ago

Paul, I use facebook as a way of leaving ‘interesting things to read’ lying around the house. I am a grandmother and also the oldest person in the family qualified to operate fb, so now I feel free to assume the bossy old woman role and post useful stuff that I think everyone should know.

As long as I find enough ‘cool and funny’ links to add to the useful, interesting, informative and challenging stuff that I think they should read, they do actually check out my page. I even post links for family members who live in the same house.

The only newspaper we read is the free local one; I pick it up to drain the chips on, but it is often quite interesting and I think performs a useful and positive community function. One thing that really made my day was noticing that they have a page for all the ‘spiritual’ notices and it is so inclusive, with buddhist and even the new age ‘religions’ given equal space. And this in a conservative inland Qld town? Things are not as bad as they sometimes seem.

Tim Macknay
Tim Macknay
9 years ago

Thanks for this Paul. A useful tip for when my two year old learns to read.