General Note to Parents:
It has come to my attention that many of my students engage in what is euphemistically called “multi-tasking” while doing homework. At the same time that they are supposed to be understanding their reading or solving grammar problems or writing an essay (to say nothing of their math, science, history, and foreign language studies), they are also doing one or more of the following: visiting “My Space” on the computer, communicating by Instant Messenger (IM), listening to what is (often euphemistically) called “music” on an iPod, watching TV or a video, talking on the telephone, playing a video game, and perhaps also drinking a caffeine-laced drink. Some students have confessed to doing four or even five of these at a time. Such combinations cannot but lead to difficulties in concentration and stunted intellectual growth. I would like to suggest that, depending on your own student’s particular situation, perhaps a conversation on the subject and, if necessary, some increased adult supervision might be in order.
I don’t know what the parents will say when they read this. Many of my students are going to be up in arms. “We’re perfectly good at multi-tasking, we’re doing fine in school,” they will say, “and who are you adults to tell use how we study best?”
Well, I’ll tell you who we are (that is, if we are really behaving like adults). We are people who, as we grow older and more dependent on you, don’t want to have to live in a world in which the people running the world can’t concentrate on what they’re doing.
Furthermore, some of us know better than you do about what “doing fine in school” really means. We know from experience that it’s not just about good grades and decent progress reports. It’s about growing from the kind of person who keeps counting how many pages you have left to read into the kind of person who forgets everything else in the world but what is happening in a good book. And how can you lose yourself in a good book when raging words screamed to a primitivistic beat (or syrupy words whispered to a sentimental drone) are being piped into your head and when every ten or twenty seconds you feel compelled to respond to an IM of imbecile banality hurriedly composed by someone paying equally minimal attention to your banal IM?
Do IM. Fine. But do only it—for as long as it takes to complete a conversation. Then turn it off and listen to your infernal song if you have to. Then turn it off and win points in the video game. Then turn it off and read the good book your English teacher has assigned you.
Of course the book will seem boring at first because it isn’t screaming in your ear and flash-dancing in front of your eyes. But somewhere inside you there is a soul that needs nourishing, and it won’t be satisfied with what multi-tasking can feed it any more than your body can be satisfied by eating candy-bar wrappers and soft drink ads.
How do I know this? Because I’ve done both. I’ve multi-tasked and I’ve read good books. Reading good books is better.