Concepts to Give a Rest: Part I — Procedural Literacy
Something’s been nagging at me lately. In the rush to use “games to teach” we keep skipping over the obvious question: Teach what?
So, it was with some interest I picked up on this item:
The MacArthur Foundation has decided to contribute $1.1 million behind a new public school in New York for 6-12th graders. The curriculum for the entire school will surround designing video games. The idea is that if children have “gaming literacy”, or in other words, teaching kids about dynamic systems.
All well and good. But can I ask another question–do games really teach “procedural literacy?” I’m not saying that they don’t. Just asking.
As for an entire school based around games, well, that sounds like fun. So does an entire school based around comic books or sports or cooking. In fact, I think this is really the same idea that Disney uses when it comes to building hotels. They call it “themeing”, and I’m down with that.
I’m just not sure that I understand how playing games will make kids any better off that, say, using Google and the Wikipeduia and maybe learning Flash and a little BASIC. All things equal, I’m happy that someone is trying this out. We’ll see how it goes. And I’m equally glad that my kids are not in this particular program.
Heresy, you say? As a videogame researcher and writer, shouldn’t I want my kids to get that extra edge in the digital economy and learn this new literacy? Yeah, well, here’s the problem. My house is full of games and I am sure that whatever lessons games have to teach, my kids soak up on a regular basis. They don’t need to learn non-linear thinking at school. They need to remember to put their coats in the closet when they come home and to pick up their toys.
So what has been nagging? I think that we need to put these notions of computational, procedural or gaming literacy under the microscope and see what’s there. These notions sounded nice when we were trying to find reasons to justify studying games. Now we need to question those very assumptions.