Video Games aren’t Destroying Education

Video games can save the educational system. Take a minute, let that sink in. After decades of being told that games would rot your brains, there are finally people—smart people, no less—saying that video games may be the key to making school work for students.

You see, the education system isn’t working for everyone. In a large part, it’s because of all the importance being placed on standards and making sure every child is in the same place when they pass a grade. As Sir Ken Robinson says in his video about the breakdown of education, we’re trying to churn children through the system like they’re dated milk cartons.

As a population group, it’s boys that are falling behind and being tossed off the shelves into special categories and being labeled as having behavioral and learning problems.  “If you are a boy, you’re four times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD,” Ali Carr-Chellman, instructional designer and teacher, said in her TED talk “Gaming to re-engage boys in learning.”

Her synopsis of the problem?  “Their culture isn’t working in schools.”  Part of that culture in America, is gaming.  Jane McGonigal, noted author and game designer, says that students spend about 10,000 hours playing online games by the time they’re 21. Obviously, that’s a significant portion of their life. It’s as much time as they’ll spend going from fifth grade to graduating high school. As much as educators want to closet off this section of students’ lives, they aren’t able to. Kids still want to write about the games they’re playing, and college students will still skip classes when the latest COD game comes out.

Teachers ignoring games is akin to Stewie and Bryan from Family Guy passing up the RC Cola machine in the desert (only imagine that the machine actually did have Dr. Pepper inside). It’s a huge, untapped resource. It can save them. But they’re choosing to ignore it based on what culture says about gaming.

Teachers have started to use online education to try to teach students based on what they’re already doing—going online. But they still haven’t tapped into gaming, based on a stigma and honestly, a prejudice. They talk about the kids in their school, who talk about gaming, in pretty demeaning ways…” Carr-Chellman said. “If it were your culture, think of how that might feel. It’s very uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of that kind of language.”

 But what are gamers actually doing? They’re not just sitting in their basements hitting buttons, after all. They’re saving the land, fighting for America, and fighting for right.

 McGonigal claims that games make us better people, by virtue of their medium alone. They teach us to problem solve, to work in groups with people we don’t know (raiding parties, anyone?), and to try again when we fail. They give us optimism that we can accomplish the impossible and teach us how to enjoy what we’re doing and throw our full concentration into it.

 “Gamers are super-empowered hopeful individuals,” McGonigal said.  The only problem is that gamers aren’t finding that structure in the real world. If you mess up on a test at school, you’re willingness to try again isn’t really going to help your grade. You can enjoy what you’re doing as much as you want; the teacher still wants you to move on to something else, sit still and keep quiet. There’s no immersing yourself in a lecture about the importance of beetles. There just isn’t.

Part of what needs to happen is for education to begin to model itself after gaming culture. Students need to be able to ‘level up’ when they do well in something, and they need to be able to have extra lives when it comes time to take a test. It won’t be easy to change an educational culture that’s been around since the Industrial Revolution. But something needs to happen so that students can start bringing the best of their learning culture to schools.


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EB Original by Lindsey


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