We Need More Video Games, Less School

James Paul Gee is an Arizona State University professor who argues that video games and the classroom are at cross-purposes. No big surprise, right? Except Gee, a highly regarded linguist, argues that schools kill the joy of learning while video games can reignite it.

Video games teach!Gee argues that conventional pedagogy is, in fact, contrary to the learning impulse. He tells others he had difficulty learning in school because classrooms tend to instill passivity, not passion. The problem, he says, is that teachers give out information to students and say, “This is what you do.”

Video games, however, put kids in situations where they have to figure out how to achieve goals, while running free, failing often but also thinking creatively to solve problems, often interactively. One of the best things about video games he says, is that they “lower the price of failure.” This opens up creative space where you can explore, take risks, try new things, and not “get uptight or think in too narrow of ways.”

Gee is actually not alone among thinkers who endorse the idea that video games are better than school. Some are even more radical.

“Abolish school, shoot at kids with lasers”
Prospect Magazine published an opinion piece earlier this year from novelist Julian Gough, proposing to abolish schools and let children learn through playing video games all day.

Gough writes, “Monitor the brain activity of a kid in a math class—nothing going on. Now monitor it at home while he plays Bioshock at level 13: his brain is growing new neural pathways as though his life depended on it. Only the fear of either death or massive status loss can motivate a teenager to do anything, and computer games are optimised to do just that.”

In case you think he is being ironic or at least tongue-in-cheek, Gough’s conclusion leaves no doubt that he means it:

School sucks because it’s boring, not because it’s too challenging. Don’t make learning easier. Make it more difficult: set a clock running. And shoot at kids with lasers. We used to learn because a tiger would kill and eat us if we didn’t. Abolish schools, and bring back tigers.

“New modes of thought”
For a voice somewhat more moderate, you can turn to MIT Professor Henry Jenkins who has also argued in favor of video games as unique and important teaching tools. Jenkins says:

All games are educational in that they are teaching us new modes of thought, new ways of processing information, and new strategies for problem solving. There is a value in harnessing the best elements of contemporary game design and deploying them around content which we have traditionally seen as educationally valuable…. We acquire skills through play that we will later apply towards more serious ends.

Games can at least be a tool in the classroom
Several years ago, video game creator Electronic Arts, along with Microsoft and several other companies helped fund a one-year study examining the effects of using video games in the classroom.

The study’s conclusion, “Games Can Aid Learning at School” was not quite entirely skewed by the obvious vested interest of its backers. One teacher who took part admitted, “I can definitely see the potential of using games in the classroom. It proved to be a great tool for motivating students and engaging their interest.”

Gee is not quite so temperate in his judgment of traditional classroom models in relation to video games. Whatever else you think of the idea that video games are better than school, you have to admit that Gee waxes eloquent about his appreciation for the former. Please enjoy the video, while I go back to shooting Call of Duty zombies (and of course, learning new modes of thought while recovering the primordial pleasure of learning!) with my teenaged daughter.

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