Nostalgia specs - the must-have accessory to gain the right perspective on the past

9th March 2012 at 00:00
Who doesn't need a bit of rose-tinted assistance to look at education's bygone times?

I got my first pair of nostalgia spectacles when I was about 40. Back then I hardly needed them. Now the years have progressed, the lenses are much thicker and the prescription stronger. In fact, if I didn't have my glasses, it would be impossible to function.

I am not alone. Many of my older colleagues have become just as dependent on specs. What surprised me is the number of younger colleagues who share my outlook. Then I realised they are just much more discreet and using contact lenses.

One evening I found myself in the company of teachers lamenting the decline in educational standards. We had returned to the decline in children's ability to acquire and retain basic subject information. Each teacher gave an anecdote reminiscing about how much better things were in decades long gone. Aside from the jokes that something must have got into the water, what we all agreed on - perhaps surprisingly - was that the children were no less innately intelligent than previous generations. Nevertheless, as we pushed our specs firmly onto our noses, we were convinced that an increasing number of pupils had more difficulty focusing on simple tasks such as listening, reading, writing and memorising basic information.

At this point, we were joined by a much younger colleague who went on to relate examples of her own. We were surprised, because unlike us she doesn't wear specs or contact lenses. Of course, I have not ruled out the possibility that this is simply the early stages in the deterioration in her eyesight.

Several months later, I came across CPA - constant partial attention - a term coined by ex-Microsoft researcher Linda Stone to describe the condition in which we are so busy monitoring the digital environment that our attention becomes fragmented. In a book by Richard Watson, he has taken the idea a stage further and refers to CPS - constant partial stupidity.

Perhaps more alarmingly, the eminent neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, in How 21st-Century Technology is Changing the Way We Think and Feel, posits her concern that our brains - particularly those more malleable brains of young people - are being reconfigured as they are saturated by a digital world, resulting in a generation with a much shorter attention span.

Now I am not convinced. What age are Stone, Watson and Greenfield? Are they not just wearing the same specs as me? However, what confuses me is that not everyone who is older is wearing specs. The more elevated individuals are in the educational hierarchy, the less they seem to need nostalgia specs. A friend has suggested this is because they have had laser eye treatment, and apparently this induces visionary insight into the educational future. I have considered the laser treatment; but I'm too set in my ways; I put my specs back on - ah, much better - and ponder the words that there is "none so blind as those who will not see".

David Halliday teaches at Eyemouth High.

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