In a recent Acculturated piece Mark Naida rightly calls out the media ignorance prevalent among Millennials. Thanks to a la carte media sources like Netflix and carefully curated social media sites like Facebook, Millennials often too easily avoid daily news. Naida’s advice to Millennials: Pick up a book. Fair, but not enough given what he writes at the beginning of his piece. “Focusing only on the mainstream news platforms not only makes me more susceptible to agendas and brain wash,” he says, “and a toxic daily dose of negativity that I feel I can do little about.”
That’s right. Millennials don’t feel the need to pay attention to current events because they don’t feel empowered to respond effectively. Why does such a privileged generation, one with more free access to media than any previous generation, feel so powerless? This goes beyond the simplistic argument that Millennials seek instant gratification. What if they’re seeking instant gratification because they don’t feel empowered to do much more than “like” a video or watch Netflix and chill.
Suppose Naida is right to assert that opening a book would solve the problem. Anyone can open a book. Yoko Ono once famously suggested that instead of reading the book one should simply count the words and be satisfied. Millennials can open as many books as they’d like, but until they are able to read them critically the knowledge held within won’t make a bit of a difference. One of the main reasons Millennials don’t feel empowered to engage in current events is that they were never taught to think critically about the world around them.
In the ’90s public schools failed at critical thinking. Increased federal bureaucracy led to regurgitation over analysis and a “teach to the test” mentality that still plagues education today. The PC Mafia’s rise to power created a generation of sheep better suited to Orwell’s Animal Farm or the counseling centers at Berkeley than that of an informed citizenry. Today’s Millennials feel powerless because they were never empowered when they should have been: during the course of their K-12 education. Schools failed. The Facebook newsfeed is the result.
Instead of smacking Millennials over their collective head with hardback volumes, we ought to be emphasizing critical thinking skills beginning at the preschool level. Simple games like jigsaw puzzles shouldn’t be reserved for testing gifted students at their parents’ behest. Spare children the flashcards and teach them how to build card castles. Rethink how we educate so we don’t raise another generation of powerless adults who think they can’t do anything more than turn their back on Rome while it burns.