Monday, September 14, 2009

It’s all in the subtleties—A teacher’s manual that is trying to make a difference: A review of the new book Teaching Generation M by a member of Gen M

The editors (Vibiana Bowman Cvetkovic and Robert J. Lackie) and writers (they are too numerous to cite) of Teaching Generation M: A Handbook for Librarians and Educators had the insight to not make this book a compilation of vastly discerning viewpoints. Yes, some of the viewpoints are somewhat different, but this book does not seem to be an academic boxing match in any way and that’s because there’s no time for academic fist fighting when one has to facilitate a better library and classroom environment. The editors of this book had the good sense to know that this digital debate is not about personal preferences in regards to how to teach (the Kindle or no Kindle question is blasé). Rather, the debate revolves around the passionate belief on the librarian’s and educator’s part concerning how to best serve their students’ needs. These educators have good reason to argue. In a sense, Teaching Generation M deals first and foremost with closing the gap, and one can’t do that by getting in a tizzy over the situation.


This book very cogently states the problems inherent in the digital divide without pointing any fingers at anyone, and that’s because it’s a twofold problem. The older generation’s assumption that Gen M consists of “computer wizards” does pose as a falsity, and yet it’s not the complete part of the problem—it more is the starting off point. Once that assumption has been set in the people who constitute Gen M’s minds, they don’t actively try to learn more in the way of better critical media skills, because they are so confident of their skills, which ultimately results in their writing poor papers. Therefore, both parties are wrong in how they conduct their business, hence the digital divide. This is a brilliant point made by most of the writers of this book—there are a few stragglers, but that’s OK.


However, there’s an interesting paradox to that argument that I think the writers of this book know is present, and it’s their saving grace: It’s highly ironic that Gen M doesn’t nearly know as much as older individuals think—and I include myself in that group, as a member of Gen M(edia), or the Millennial Generation, myself. This may sound like a double-sided criticism addressed to both parties. But the reason why I think the writers of Teaching Generation M realize the contradiction is because, throughout the book, they subtly posit that idea in the readers’ heads without belaboring the point. Therefore, the book remains non-judgmental.


I really found this book to be so lucid that is was refreshing. Who would have thought that a handbook or manual for librarians and teachers (and anyone else who deals with Gen M) could be so entertaining to read from the layman’s perspective? On a simple, primal level, what makes the book so exciting to me is simply having the pleasure to read what is on librarians’ and/or teachers’ minds. These educators merely appear recitative, but when they cut loose, they do they have things to say! The book doesn’t really have so much to do with extolling or decrying the growing adherence to technology, especially with regard to doing research. Rather, Teaching Generation M has to do with how to properly facilitate learning in a technological digital age. That’s why it’s a fantastic book for everyone concerned.


Writers such as Patricia H. Dawson, Diane K. Cambell, and Mitch Fontenot, and Robert Lackie, have the good sense to know that technology is here, and one has to simply properly deal with this new situation. It is amusing how some academics act almost as if Wikipedia and Google have just arrived on the scene, so everyone should cower in their seats over this dangerous new way of doing research. They talk about these research tools almost as if they were weapons of mass destruction, and writer Mitch Fontenot sees the hilarity in the situation, without being mean-spirited in any way. You cannot properly facilitate learning when you are angry at the same people that you as an educator are also criticizing. Well, certain academics seem to be acting that way—my opinion. I believe that as a teacher, librarian, trainer, or supervisor, you have to figure out how the relationship between student and teacher has changed, first and foremost, before even setting foot in that library or classroom setting. That form of teaching would subsequently help encourage students to enhance their critical skills, especially in terms of surveying digital information.


Really, even though the young person’s critical thinking and research skills are constantly changing, when one comes right down to it, those skills are still the same primary learning skills, just as no matter how much teenagers change, they still remain teenagers. The philosophical notion behind this book is that no matter how much the classroom’s format changes, it basically still remains a classroom. Therefore, all educators should not worry over the superficial changes that are occurring in terms of how a student conducts research. That’s a very even-balanced argument on the writers’ part. The argument becomes even stronger once the reader realizes that these points are not made from some essayist completely separated from the situation, but rather, it is coming from educators and librarians who see the situation firsthand.


Again, I like the fact that the book is in the guise of just a teacher’s manual or handbook, mainly because I believe this type of format allows the writers of Teaching Generation M to administer a calming even-handed non-argumentative approach to the points that they make throughout the book, and they do it without being condescending. Therefore, any reader can believe in what he or she is reading about, and there are a plethora of points being made that will assist anyone who teaches or works with Gen M students.


However, I think there is a double-layered meaning to this published work. If the book was only a teacher’s manual, than it might have a prosaic tone, which means that the common reader would be turned off. However, I think that Teaching Generation M: A Handbook for Librarians and Educators is exciting because it is subtly addressed to all readers, including members of Generation Media, like myself, which is just another form of bridging the gap. Well done all!



- David A. Brown, Rider University English major, with a concentration in Cinema Studies; and Editorial Intern for Cineaste Magazine: America’s Leading Magazine on the Art and Politics of the Cinema, and a proud member of Generation M(edia).

34 comments:

Robert J. Lackie said...

Thanks, Dave--glad to see that a Gen M college senior is reading this type of material! I hope to see many more reviews from you on various types of media, as this is great experience for you. Keep smiling!

David said...

Thanks for the nice comment! If you want to read my shorter Amazon review, go to http://www.amazon.com/review/R2HMBE2L9TVUHY/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

I plan on reviewing other books and other forms of media.

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