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9th July

First Published in the New York Sun July 9, 2007

By Andrew Wolf

The announcement of a new secondary school, to be opened in September 2009, a school “that will use game design and game-inspired methods to teach critical 21st-century skills and literacies,” bears comment.

This new “Fun and Games School,” as I have named it (it has no official name as of now), is sponsored by a non-profit group, the Gamelab Institute of Play, “that leverages games and play as transformative contexts for learning and creativity.”

How will this new school do this? “By bringing non-traditional audiences of all ages into the innovative space of game production and play … the school will explore new ways of thinking, acting, and speaking through playing and making games in a social world. Students call themselves writers, designers, readers, performers, teachers, and students. The Institute calls them gamers (their italics).”

I call them “guinea pigs” in yet another crazy experiment to see how we can avoid actually teaching children real academic content. But these are not guinea pigs. They are real children, who have just one shot at getting a quality education. Who will pick up the pieces when that chance is lost in this sea of jargon?

It should come as no surprise that one of the sponsors of this insanity is the group that I call the “permanent government” of New York City’s education establishment, New Visions for Public Schools. They brought you the High School for Peace and Diversity, the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, and the new Khalil Gibran School for Arab Culture and Language.

In little more than two years, as Joel Klein will be packing up his personal effects from his cubicle in the Tweed Courthouse, New Visions will still be in charge, just as they were when Chancellor Quinones was nominally running the show, as well as Chancellor Fernandez, Chancellor Cortines, Chancellor Crew, and Chancellor Levy.

Somehow, as Mayor Bloomberg was railing against the failed public school system, purged the superintendents and the principals, and closed and sold the building at 110 Livingston Street, he managed to pass over the individuals who had really set the direction of the school system for well over a decade before the mayor took control.

Joining in with New Visions is the John D. and Catharine T. MacArthur Foundation, which kicked in $1.1 million for “planning and development.” They are the same institution that designates its grant recipients as “geniuses.” Presumably they will do the same for the students in their latest school, where “students will design games and game-inspired materials, learn about the history and culture of games and play, build communities, and produce knowledge around the materials and relationships that result.”

That is a quote from the press release announcing the school, which goes on to say: “Such an approach allows young people to explore the learning space of games and game driven pedagogy and gives them a platform on which to build the technical, technological, artistic, cognitive, social, and linguistic skills they need to graduate from high school prepared for college and the world of work.”

The world of work is located in the real, not the fantasy world, a place that the “gamers” may have a hard time transitioning to. The American Medical Association is considering classifying video game addiction as a “mental illness,” much like gambling or dependence on drugs or alcohol.

Dr. Mohamed Khan of the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health strongly believes that games are addictive. He recently authored a report, “Emotional and Behavioral Effects, Including Addictive Potential, of Video Games,” which estimates that as many as 15% of game players indulge for a minimum of two hours a day causing physical problems such as seizures and tendinitis, as well as mental problems that in some extreme cases can result in suicide. A final report is due in 2012, at which time the AMA may formally act.

“While more study is needed on the addictive potential of video games, the AMA remains concerned about the behavioral, health and societal effects of video game and Internet overuse,” the president of the AMA, Dr. Ronald Davis, said. “We urge parents to closely monitor children’s use of video games and the Internet.” Good advice for parents, no matter where their youngsters go to school. The Gamelab Institute of Play boasts of promoting what they call “gaming literacy.” The MacArthur Foundation will use the school as a “demonstration site, integrating gaming research developed through MacArthur’s digital media and learning initiative.” New Visions will use this as a means to suck dollars out of the school system and from private donors to support its growing bureaucracy and tighten its control over city schools.

As for the students? They will learn that they are just pawns in the power games played by the adults.

© 2007 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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