Teaching Kids To Concentrate

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This post from the blog of Jaime Casap, “senior evangelist” at Google Education, describes exactly my beliefs about young people and multitasking:

“When you do a search for ‘millennials multitasking,’ you can come up with 52,000 or so hits.  If you do one for ‘students multitasking’ you get close to 3 million hits.  You find articles debating the validity of this skill set, and you also find articles on how to teach, manage, and/or take advantage of this skill set.  One articles gives you ways that you can develop your multitasking skills.  Another gave you ways to hire the best multitaskers.

The problem is that multitasking does not exist.  A human brain can multitask, but not in the way some think it can.  Not when it comes to actually paying attention.  I can type this, wiggle my toes, and chew gum at the same time (oh yea, and it keeps my heart pumping too).  The brain is constantly multitasking.

However, what these links are describing, and what we think of when we think of multitasking, is paying attention to more than one thing at a time.  This we simply cannot do, and all the evolving we’ve done in the millions of years we’ve been walking around hasn’t given us the capability to do so.  Say nothing of the idea that kids who are ‘digital natives’ all of sudden have the ability to do something the brain hasn’t done in million of years.  Relatively speaking, evolution happens fast, but not that fast.

The irony is that we are creating a generation of kids that believes they can multitask, simply because they were born in the digital age.  We have convinced them that they are different than we are, that their generation was born with this special skillset.  It’s like saying my generation was born when we had cars, therefore we are all natural race car drivers.  What we should be doing is teaching them to concentrate, not filling their heads with the belief they were born with comic book super powers.” Read more here.

I want to repeat that for emphasis: What we should be doing is teaching them to concentrate. More than ever before, young people need this skill—precisely because of the array of distractions that are constantly available to them. 

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