Is this generation idiot-proof?

A few weeks ago, one of my employees was excited because he had just driven a new car that parks sans driver interaction. That’s right: “look ma no hands.” I incredulously asked how it operated. He explained that its navigation system was computerized to allow the driver to select a spot, and the car will do its thing. His overwhelming experience included a play by play detail of how the car moved back and forth until it was “exactly in the middle of the parking spot.” As I pondered this marvel, my inquisitive mind took a hold of my mouth and asked: “So what happens if the computer goes south?” As the Jeopardy clock ticked its annoying tune in my head, my friend was left bereft and finally stammered: “I guess…well I don’t know.” That’s right folks!!! As Bugs Bunny would say: “eh bidi, bidi, bidi…that’s all folks!” The manufacturer has determined that we are idiots and cannot park. That’s encouraging.

Lately my 60+ brain has been having a hard time coming to terms with the rapid increase in technology that has rendered a generation impotent in basic skills. Cars no longer take you from point A to point B…they have become our social companions and feel the urge to talk to us in the process. They want to interact. Wow, some of us probably interact more with our automobiles than our families. A few years back while my roadster was being worked on, the BMW dealer decided to be extra kind to me and give me a BMW 7-series for a loaner. It was not a car, it was a bus. I had to sit on two pillows to reach the clutch. I am barely five foot tall and I was given half a ton of steel that was powerful enough to drive me to work in 15 minutes! The trip normally took 35 on a good day! At first I was fascinated by the “assistant” who helped me park, told me to put my seatbelt on, beeped to tell me I was too close to the car in front, and continually and incessantly felt the urge to alert me to things I had never felt the urge to be alerted for. After 48 hours of driving with “another woman” that happened to dwell somewhere in the bowels of my car, I felt a strong compulsion to open the hood, pull all the wires and silence her forever. No jury would have convicted me. I can see my defense: “driven to insanity by technology your Honor!” Obviously car manufacturers have gotten the idea that drivers have become too inept to drive, park, merge, and find their way home without incessant robotic chatter. Why would anyone with a legal license require continual instructions on how to drive? Does not one receive these instructions before getting a license? Did our parents and grandparents drive less safely because they did not have a voice in their head and under the hood telling them that they were too close to a vehicle? Why bother taking driving lessons if technology has made cars idiot proof? The BMW dealer told me that any idiot can drive the car. I rest my case.

The idiot-proofing of this generation does not end on the road. It has found its way to our classrooms. Our educators are bent on giving “life skills” instead of teaching. I had to go online and search for “life skills” because for the life of me I had no clue what they were. Have I been missing out on skills that would have made my life better, more educated, more successful, more adapt to face the good, the bad, and the ugly? According to Answers.com and Arish Mudra Rakshasa (n/d), the ten life skills include: self-awareness, problem solving, decision-making, critical thinking, creative thinking, interpersonal relationships, empathy, and effective communication, handling stress, and handling emotions. This got me thinking about our ancestors. People like Michelangelo, Puccini, Shakespeare, Strauss, Verdi, Madame Curie, Einstein, and many more who went through their life without taking classes in “life skills.” I guess they realized and knew exactly who they were supposed to be. Are today’s children so inept that they require someone to tell them that they are sentient? Have we made them so idiot-proof to life’s trials and tribulations that we now have to teach them how to recognize their self awareness? Have we created a generation of robotic individuals who must be guided through life or become non-functional? Which brings me to the whooper of questions: do we really have to make them comprehend the simplicity of adding and subtraction because they are “life skills?”
When I went to school we were taught the basic and fundamental foundations to what we so fondly referred to as the Three Rs; reading, writing, arithmetic. My first recollection of a “calculator” was the abacus: an instrument that can be traced back to ancient times: 300 BC to be exact. This simple instrument went through the great Roman and Greek scholars who used it not only for basic math, but to do calculations. The abacus I grew up with dates back to 1200 AD and had its roots in China. Wow!!! A basic instrument made out of wood, wire, and beads that can not only assist in adding, subtracting, multiplication, and division, but according to some current scholars, can even determine square roots and cubic roots of numbers. I took my abacus to school as fondly as I took my lunch. Those colored beads made me realize that if I move them to the left or right, I would be subtracting or adding as the case may be. Now we have turned the simple and fundamental mathematical exercise of adding and subtracting into a convoluted exercise in attempting to give children an idiot-proof idea of math. I might be getting senile, but what is there to understand in adding and subtracting? Do I really need to wrap my brain into the concept that if I take something away I will have less and if I add I will have more? Do we really need to elevate simplicity into complicated nonsense that confuses even Confucius? Does this generation of kids need another excuse to think less? Despite all the idiot-proofing, is this generation more intelligent, successful, assertive, resilient, heroic, and self-aware than what we were? Are we producing more geniuses? Are “life-skills” preventing teen suicide? Is the continual “protection” made our teens unable to cope with simple disappointments in life?

My parents were big on education and bigger on life experiences. We were taught good from bad, success from failure, and common sense; however, when we failed we were expected to try until we succeed which we normally did. When one day I came home from school and grumbled about my teacher, and how she does not want us to have fun; my pragmatic father retorted: “school is for learning; if you want fun go to a playground.” I never grumbled again and went through school always trying to do my best knowing that doing my best will pay off in the long run. When calculators started creeping into our lives, I asked my father for one; once again his pragmatic side took over; “why would you want a toy for dummies?” No answer to that. Even today I refrain from using a calculator and still add and subtract in my head, and without undue strenuous comprehension adding and subtracting increases and decreases respectively. Go figure!

As I grow older I am nostalgic for the days when children were given a solid foundation in life and education. When parents were the “life skill” builders, and took time to teach and mentor their children. When teachers were able to teach fundamental skills like the three Rs, and when children were left to learn the toughness of life in a loving way. The current trend to idiot-proof our children’s lives into oblivion is going to be painful when they wake up one day and realize that they are a generation of weak, self-centered, idle-brained adults with plenty of self-awareness and little or no resiliency to life. A deep thought indeed which I would dwell on longer if it weren’t for the fact that my GPS needs a new battery. I simply cannot live without it!

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