Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What Can the Battle of Gettysburg Tell Us About the Battle over Video Games?
Sometimes getting children off the TV or computer while they're playing video games feels like a pitched battle. I'm not talking about the surgical strikes of modern warfare. I'm talking about a full frontal assault, the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Battle of Gettysburg.

Our 8th grade is reading The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara this summer for their social studies class, and the book may lend a nice guide to how the "Battle of Videoburg" often plays out.

Gettysburg, Day 1: The Union Cavalry sets up by the Seminary and dismounts, hoping to delay the Confederate advance so reinforcements can arrive. The Confederates rout the Federals, pushing them back through the town. However, the Union is able to dig in on the high ground, ultimately setting up the defeat of Lee after Pickett's Charge.

Videoburg, Minute 1: The Parents set up chores outside, hoping to get their child outdoors and in the fresh air. The Children entrench themselves on the couch, ignoring and steamrolling all parental attempts to dislodge them through the cunning and aggravating tactic of increasing the volume or putting earphones on.

Gettysburg, Day 2: In seemingly senseless carnage from Devil's Den to the Peach Orchard to Little Round Top, both sides exhaust themselves in bloody warfare. Lee is convinced his strategy of going hard at the flanks means the center will be weak on Day 3. He's wrong.

Videoburg, Minute 2: The Parents toss volley after volley of privileges to be revoked and extra chores to be added with only minor reaction from the Children. When screen time is revoked there is a grimace, which Parents perceive as a chink in the armour. In fact, it's a grin.

Gettysburg, Day 3: Lee has decided a full frontal assault at the Union center will break the Federals once and for all. If he is able to break the Union line, he will have defeated the North in its own backyard and demoralized its citizens. What he finds is a reinforced Union center, which cuts down Lee's troops with merciless efficiency. It is the High Water Mark of the Confederacy and the beginning of the end.

Videoburg, Minute 3: The Parents, perceiving weakness in the grimace, decide to come at the Children with all they've got. They make a move for the power button, knowing this means they are all in - inviting an onslaught of screams and tantrums rivaled only by the Tasmanian devil. What the Parents find is a stubborn and recalcitrant child who slams the console down and storms off to their room, leaving the outside and chores unexplored.

Why do we seem so far apart on the role of video games in the lives of our children? Are they so bad, that we are willing to have these intense 3-minute battles which get us nowhere? If video games are such an integral part of our child's life (and frankly, they are integral to many of us who grew up on Nintendo and the greatest game ever created - Super Tecmo Bowl), can we find a way to use their positive aspects to teach our children?

In a compelling article for SharpBrains, Marshall Weinstein, a senior at Johns Hopkins, has outlined the reasoning for a balanced approach to video games in education. (On a side note, what a great example of 21st Century learning: a senior majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Entrepreneurship is able to have an article published on an industry website and earn a virtual internship in the process. Check it out here.)

While I am not endorsing the use of video games for educational purposes just yet, I do see some of the positive characteristics these games can develop in students such as collaboration, leadership, and feelings of accomplishment. I encourage you to check out Marshall's article on SharpBrains at the link below:

Learning with Video Games: A Revolution in Education and Training?

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