Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Faster than you

My husband and I decided to do away with cable television a few years ago.  We reasoned that we didn't watch more than 3 shows and were tired of paying the increasingly exorbitant bill.  Since we have young children who didn't agree to this decision, we bought an Apple TV that streams online shows that are either free (Hulu), free with a subscription fee (Netflix), or charge a la carte (iTunes).  This has worked for our entire family with little guff.  The only problem I have with Hulu (upon which we depend for network shows such as "Community" and "Bob's Burgers" and basic cable shows like "The Daily Show") is the commercials.  I realize that Hulu is free because they use paid advertising, however my husband and I moan at every one of those cash cows that interrupt our regularly scheduled programming.

This post is not about the evils of marketing, however.  No, I have a bone to pick with one in particular.  You've seen it, don't lie to me.  AT&T has this ad campaign, "It's Not Complicated," in which they send a guy in a suit to a school to ask elementary school kids at a round table stupid questions, such as "Is it better to be big or little?"  Really?  It all comes down to a dichotomy?  Hey kids, is it better to be evil or kind, because we all know that bigger is better and little is weak and evil and something to be mocked in gym class.

The particular commercial that gets my goat every time I see it is this one:

Yes, that little girl and her lisp are darling.  Yes, the little boy next to her making subtle faces at her imaginative ramble is also adorbs.  But why is AT&T pushing this message at kids?  Faster is better than slow.  Didn't Aesop prove this wrong centuries ago?

I take umbrage with this idea, with the entire dichotomous ad campaign - even if it is meant to be somewhat coy - because of what I witness with my kids and kids who I have taught over the years.  The message that faster is better is not just coming from the jackass in the AT&T suit, it's coming directly from the school systems.  It's coming directly from the Department of Education and from the Princeton Review.  It's coming from the Olympics and every sports team that rejected me as a kid.

Case in point: my six-year-old son is funny and sweet and smart, but he's not a talented athlete, at least not yet.  After dinner one night, he and his athletic older sister and a seven-year-old neighbor were racing down the sidewalk.  My son came in the house, head hanging.  He wasn't crying, just sad.  When I asked what was wrong he said, "I'm not good at anything."  How did he reach this conclusion?  Because he wasn't fast enough to ever win the race between two older girls with longer legs.

Second case in point: my daughter has been stuck on the same math facts test all year.  Math facts tests are 100 problems - usually one type of problem, like multiplication of single digits - timed over 5 minutes (I think, maybe less).  She knows the math and only misses one or two problems, but she cannot complete the test.  Ever.  She has taken the same test the ENTIRE year!  Why?  Because she works slowly.  She may be doing long division, geometry, and fraction homework, but she's still on that bleedin' multiplication math facts test.  I worry about what will happen with the standardized test she's required to take next week.

I asked around for information about test accommodations and learned that a.) I will have to pay for a full IQ battery to have my daughter's processing speed tested; b.) these are the only tests (administered by a licensed psychologist and if not covered by insurance ranging between $400-$800) that are accepted in the public schools; and c.) she has to have a 20 point discrepancy between her speed and her IQ to receive accommodations.  That's a huge discrepancy, one I doubt she has.  What does this mean?  She may not finish the test or any of the tests she has to take on her journey through elementary, middle and high school, which eventually will effect her ability to receive college scholarships.

Why is faster better, tell me?  If a child is able to exercise, does it freakin' matter that he doesn't come in first?  If a child is able to understand math concepts, does it matter that she isn't able to pump out equations in two minutes or five minutes flat?  Why are we emphasizing speed over conceptual mastery?

In this age of high speed data, are we missing the point?