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The Arts and Play as Educational Media in the Digital Age


Robert Albrecht and Carmine Tabone

The digital revolution we are now entering as educators is an unchartered sea pregnant with wondrous possibilities but laden with a minefield of unforeseen consequences. A pedagogy that overlooks or downplays the disruptive and often dangerous influence of digital media on childhood development is necessarily a very shortsighted one.

More than just highlighting our misgivings about digital media, however, this book has a purpose far more ambitious and infinitely more useful. Based upon 45 years of work with young people in Jersey City classrooms, day camps, housing projects, libraries, church basements and community centers, the authors propose a pedagogical strategy that uses hands-on experiences in the arts as a strategy to offset and counterbalance the dominance of digital media in the lives of children.

Rather than call for the elimination of digital media—clearly an impossibility even if it were desirable—the authors maintain that children need to be exposed to non-digital, non-electronic experiences that cultivate alternative ways of thinking, feeling, and being in the world. In sum, the book does not call for an end to the digital, but outlines ways in which the arts and creative forms of play help to establish a balance in the education and socialization of children as we enter more deeply into the Digital Age.

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Chapter One: A Descent into the Maelström: The Digital Environment of Childhood



A Descent into the Maelström

The Digital Environment of Childhood

Suddenly—very suddenly—this assumed a distinct

and definite existence,

in a circle more than a mile in diameter.

Edgar Allan Poe1

In Edgar Allan Poe’s tale “A Descent into the Maelström,” a weary old fisherman recounts the terrifying day that he and his brothers were trapped in an enormous whirlpool. “It was a smooth, shining, and jet-black wall of water … speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to Heaven.” While the wailing maelström sent forth its “appalling voice,” the fisherman’s schooner and both his brothers were swallowed by the swirling sea. The fisherman who survived to tell the tale was only able to do so by carefully observing the movement of other objects—“fragments of vessels, large masses of building-timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles”—similarly pinned to the centrifugal walls of the watery abyss.

In this monstrous maelström imagined by Edgar Allan Poe, Marshall McLuhan (1951) found a metaphor for the technological environment in which we currently find ourselves. Like the old fisherman in the story, we are trapped in ←7 | 8→a perilous situation that spins at an “amazing velocity.” And yet, McLuhan suggests,...

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