Every writer has a weakness; mine’s spelling. It’s probably worsened by my sometimes spastic typing skills, and my sometimes sticky keyboard. (My other weakness is eating breakfast sitting here at the computer; bagel crumbs get in everything.) So I was fascinated to hear researchers suggest that texting might in fact teach a certain kind of language awareness that might help students learn to spell (“Phone texting ‘helps pupils to spell“).

I’m not quite sure that Britain and the United States have quite the same context surrounding language in general and learning in particular. I haven’t taught in Britain, but here the problematic use of texting codes is often closely related to an entire complex of issues related to that matrix of ideas that surround identity and authority in schools. In my experience it’s rarely a lack of spelling skill, in other words, and more a matter of resisting what some students consider an alien way of thinking.

That, in turn, may well be related to the sheer mass of media exposure described in another recent report (“Report: Media use by teens, tweens grows to 53 hours a week“).It’s not the media use that worries me– although I’m old fashioned enough to wish that there was more reading– it’s the advertising. I’d like to know how much of this media exposure is accompanied by commercial advertising directed at children. Ads are bad enough for adults; for children they are a disaster.

U.S. advertising is profoundly anti-social because it’s so narcissistic. Education is nothing if not social, and it demands attitudes and skills– putting off rewards, discipline, listening, cooperation– that contradicts (and hopefully partially counters) consumer culture. Children may well be learning important linguistic sensitivities by texting, but they only have the phone in the first place because advertisers convinced them they had to have it. I have to wonder if that dynamic is really helpful.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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