It has long been a rite of passage for young children; the moment they first begin to grasp how to tell the time as their parents patiently explain the significance of the “big hand” and the “little hand”.
But the ubiquity of mobile phones and tablets, with their digital 24-hour clock, is threatening to make the art of telling the time from a traditional timepiece redundant.
So much so that a school in Scotland has found that pupils as old as 13 are unable to tell the time from the ‘analogue’ clocks hanging in classrooms and corridors.
. . .
Now the school, in the town of Bridge of Earn, has begun to teach pupils to read a clock the old fashioned way, without resorting to their mobile phones.
In fact mobiles and tablets have been banned during school hours to encourage the girls to look at the clocks around the school.
. . .
Mrs MacGinty insists … that there are some skills that should transcend the generations.
“Society is changing and the curriculum should change to reflect this,” she said. “But some skills are too important to ignore.
“For example, we are still teaching pupils to read rail and bus timetables, even though it is no longer in the senior school maths syllabus, because it is important that pupils understand how to read these.”
She added: “Having the ability to understand the movement of the minute hand and the hour hand around the face of a clock gives young people a tangible understanding of the passing of time, not just numbers changing on a digital screen.”
There’s more at the link.
Actually, I can understand how youngsters today simply don’t come into contact with old-fashioned clock- and watch-faces often enough to need to know how to interpret them. That’s a fact of life. What worries me far more is how they come to depend on digital technology to do things that should, indeed, be basic life skills, because without them we can get into all sorts of difficulties – even serious danger. Examples:
- Learning to look out of the window and read the weather signs. Most of us grew up knowing old doggerel couplets about “red sky at night” or “mackerel sky” or what have you. They were signs that predicted what was to come. Many kids today couldn’t tell you what to expect without consulting a weather forecast.
- Being able to deal with a minor emergency such as changing a car tire, or shutting off water or gas to a home. I know a lot of people who simply don’t know how to do any of those things. In an emergency, they reach for their cellphones and call someone else to come and do it for them. What if no-one’s available?
- Reading maps. When I first came to the USA in the late 1990’s, I navigated all over the eastern half of the country, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, using a Rand McNally road atlas and my knowledge of how maps worked. I had no smartphone, no GPS system. I didn’t need them. How many young people today could say – or do – the same?
- Conduct research. I had to learn to use a library card index, look up information in books, magazines and newspapers, learn where to find the facts I needed – not just libraries, but also museums, university faculties, corporations, etc. – and so on. By the time I did my Masters degree dissertation, I could use computers to crunch numbers, write and format the text, etc., but I still had to plan, design and conduct the research, collect the results, and analyze them. Nowadays, that process is so automated that I have to wonder how many students could do it on their own.
- Meet people, carry on a conversation, etc. If I wanted to meet girls, I had to learn to talk to them, carry myself like a halfway decent human being (clothes, manners, language, etc.), and make myself someone in whom they might be interested. Nowadays it’s all “swipe left” or “swipe right” on a smartphone screen. What’s more, sex was usually something that happened (if it did – it wasn’t guaranteed) after you got to know each other – not as a preliminary to that! Take away their smartphones and apps, and how many people would be able to carry on a normal, civilized conversation, and get to know someone the old-fashioned way?
- Personal security. How many young people today are willing and able to defend themselves and their loved ones against criminal attack? How many youngsters are taught to “read the signs” of a not-so-good neighborhood, or a potential predator, and avoid them? How many kids go off to college oblivious to the fact that there are bad people out there, and end up being assaulted, raped or murdered because they take no precautions whatsoever? I don’t blame them for that so much as I blame those who didn’t prepare them for the realities of life.
I suppose reading an old-fashioned clock face is really just an early indicator for all of those issues, and more. How to solve the problem? I’m not sure. Parents don’t seem to be doing their job in teaching their youngsters how to cope with life, the universe and everything. They appear to be abdicating that responsibility to the schools – but schools aren’t designed to do that job. If we expect and allow them to act in loco parentis, we have no right to get upset when they teach our kids things we’d rather they didn’t learn. That goes with the territory.