I’ll Just DVR It

After a brief hiatus to Idaho for my sister’s wedding (congratulations!), I return to an idea I mentioned in the last post that I think is reflective of where we are at in education and in society: the brilliant invention we call DVR.

Without going into great detail, the concepts behind DVR are not novel; my parents used to record shows they wanted to watch and watch them when they had time. In fact, my mother-in-law still does this with both her favorite TV shows (CSI, in particular) and the sporting events she loves to watch, but are on at awful times (the Iditarod, the Tour de France, etc.).

What separates DVR from recording on VHS, however, is the ease with which it is done. A couple clicks of the remote and you’re set to record every new episode of 60 Minutes that is ever on CBS. A couple of more clicks, and I’m recording Pardon the Interruption every weekday. Then, whenever I feel up to it or whenever I can sit down and listen while I work on something else, I pull up the DVR menu and push play (skipping commercials, of course). Interestingly, this is also how I keep up with all of my online reading (blogs, news, sports, etc.) – I subscribe to a site, then when I have time I read through the ones that are bolded.

One interesting critique of this mentality that I’ve heard is that it encourages homogeneity – I only follow the things that fit or encourage my current beliefs and habits. In spite of my initial disagreements, I’ve slowly come to agree with this, if only because I realized it was true of me. One perfect example is the Seattle Times Husky Football blog, which I follow daily – reading this simply prods me to follow UW football a little more. Notice that I don’t subscribe to the WSU blog – that would be sacrilegious. The consequence of this is that I tend toward a one-sided perspective and am not well informed on all the sides of a particular issue.

As a society (and education is not exempt), we have moved in this direction – everything we wantis available on demand. Everything we don’t want (and, in many cases, many things we need) is nicely omitted from our lives. DVR and RSS are merely examples of this (malls, megastores, and shop-from-home television/internet also come to mind).

However, as a society (and as teachers), we must find ways to break out of this mold. I need to find ways to be “fed” information that might disagree with what I currently believe. I must find ways to challenge my own ideas and perspectives. This is necessary because I will be better informed, which will help me make better decisions; it will make me a more critical thinker.

All of this reminds me of a book I randomly got in the mail 2 years ago. It was called unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation, written by the creators of one of my favorite sources of information: FactCheck.org. Both are great sources of critical information and great teaching tools, particularly in a period of heavy “spin” like the presidential election process. I’d recommend checking both out if you haven’t already.

Both the website and the book, however, make largely the same point: without accurate and comprehensive information from multiple perspectives, we cannot make informed decisions. If I only listen to what the Obama campaign has to say, I will have a warped (and likely false) understanding of John McCain’s positions.

Being an informed decision-maker requires listening to all sides of an argument (often more than just 2 sides) and making a rational decision based on that information. And, for me, DVR makes it so much easier to avoid this in favor of watching reruns of The Simpsons.

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