Tree Octopus Latest Evidence of Internet Making Kids Dumb

The Lookout
By Brett Michael Dykes

Wed Feb 2, 1:20 pm ET

Every few months, almost like clockwork, an alarming report comes along purporting to show that the Internet is turning everyone's brains -- particularly the brains of this generation's children -- into mush. It's apparently that time again.

The fictitious claims the US Department of Education and the writer here are to be understood for what they really are, the liberal, socialist, progressive communities rage against conservative websites and blogs that have usurped the once powerful liberal socialist progressive media both in print and televised.The dangers to liberalismís tangled web after the last election cycle where Americanís getting their news unfiltered from online conservative websites and blogs has become the #1 danger to US liberalism at large.The fear is that unless the FCC is given authority to shutdown, regulate and filter what is on the web before the 2012 election, that the Tea Party and Republicans will sweep the coming election, gaining even more seats in the House, taking the Senate and possibly gaining 60 or more seats, and taking the White House as well.

If this were to occur in this political climate of public fury against all things Democrat there is little doubt that Obamacare, the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Education, and the EPA will all be swept away, and the liberal socialist progressive Union juggernaut will be ripped in pieces by RICO investigations into their illegal activities regarding voting and political donations.And a cleaning up of the Judicial system nation-wide. In which Republicans would seem the removal of liberal socialist progressive activist judges, and then flooding of the nations courts with conservative constitutionalist judges.All of which would strip to the bone much of what the liberal socialist progressives have woven into the fabric of this nation over the last 75 years effectively renewing this nation at a time where liberal socialist progressives dream of world wide domination with a totalitarian one world government is at hand.

Understanding here what is at state the US Department of Education, the Teachers Unions, the FCC and anything else that the Obama administration can bring to bear to break the back of Fox News, Conservative Radio, and Conservative News sites and blogs is their first order of duty.As it was written of the serpent in the garden so it is with liberal socialist progressives Ė that is they work in darkness with great subtlety and deceit, seeking to deceive the sheep of this nation.So here an false environmentalist endangered animal site is created, it is presented to students who go there read and study something that has been drummed into their heads on TV and in the classroom, a site that is no different than the other false websites and false date that has been created to lock up virtually the entire Midwest, Left coast, and Alaska from any economic activity in logging, hunting, fishing, mining, drilling, the construction of roads and bridges, and the development and construction of lands owned by the public or corporations.

So they create a site that is like any other and then make the outrageous claim that it is the internet that is making children stupid, instead of the truth that it is the cabal of the media and the education system that has robbed Americans of education, the American culture, and a pride in the American way of life which is an industrial and economic giant such as the world has never seen that speaks breaths and walks in freedom and liberty beyond anything that has been seen in any nation since the world began.Moreover a Christian Nation that is one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.†††††††

A few days ago Pearson, which bills itself as "the world's leading PreK-20 educational publishing company," sent out a press release touting a new study. Its title was attention-grabbing: "Schools Facing Learning Crisis Spawned by Internet." Its opening line read: "Schools around the nation are facing a learning crisis caused by the Internet..."

Scary stuff, right? Tell us more!

Pearson's release explained that the Department of Education funded the study and that it was administered by Dr. Donald Leu, a former teacher and "national authority on integrating technology into instruction." Leu's study highlighted fallacious reports on the fate of the "tree octopus" -- an allegedly endangered species roaming the treetops of the Pacific Northwest -- as a key illustration of this baleful trend.

Researchers on Leu's team asked a group of students to hunt down information on the critter, which of course does not exist. But the same researchers pulled a bit of trickery on the students -- they directed them to a website dedicated to saving the mythical tree octopus from extinction. And presto: the kids taking part in the study fell for the hoax and even continued to believe in the tree octopus after the study's leaders explained that there was no such thing.

Here's a sampling of the tree octopus factoids featured on the site:

Tree octopuses have eyesight comparable to humans. Besides allowing them to see their prey and environment, it helps them in inter-octopus relations. Although they are not social animals like us, they display to one-another their emotions through their ability to change the color of their skin: red indicates anger, white fear, while they normally maintain a mottled brown tone to blend in with the background.

According to Leu, the founder and director of the New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut, the moral of the exercise is simple: "anyone can publish anything on the Internet and today's students are not prepared to critically evaluate the information they find there."

But is this really a "learning crisis" that's "caused by the internet?" Or, for that matter, is it a problem that's really specific to the internet at all? Indeed, the paucity of critical thought in our nation's schools has bedeviled experts for a very long time -- long before the internet made its sinister appearance on the scene.

In 2009 Dr. Robert Rose, a longtime Southern California educator, wrote a piece for the Huffington Post lamenting his struggles over the years in being able to teach kids to think critically. Rose argues that doing so will inevitably ruffle the feathers of some parents and educational bureaucrats.

Remember, in their developmental years, most American kids are encouraged to swallow all sorts of fanciful tales -- such as the one about the rotund, jolly fellow who comes down chimneys each Christmas to deliver presents, or the one about the fairy who exchanges small change for baby teeth tucked under a child's pillow. Additionally, many religions children are brought up in require significant leaps of faith. So is it really that big of a step from such socially sanctioned guilelessness to taking a website's claims about the mythical tree octopus at face value?

Citing the cultural legacy of childhood deference before the harmless fictions that please their elders, Rose draws a sobering conclusion: Instruction in truly critical thinking "does not and cannot happen in the way our schools are structured with their hierarchical power base that punishes thinking that differs from the status quo," Rose wrote. "For that reason . . .  we can teach the process and skills of clearer thinking, but we can't teach them to think critically and apply those skills to the real worlds they live in. It goes against too many vested interests that fear their power will be diluted."

Nevertheless, we wanted to give the Leu study the benefit of the doubt -- without embracing it, well, uncritically, as some observers seem to have done. But the press release from Pearson was short on details and didn't supply any information about where the study's results and methodology might be found online. And the website for Dr. Leu's group does not appear to have published any such material.

So we sent the Pearson publicist who distributed the press release an email asking for specifics: "Regarding the release you sent out titled 'Schools Facing Learning Crisis Spawned By Internet' ... is there anywhere I can find the specifics of Dr. Leu's study? What age groups were the kids who fell for the tree octopus thing? How many of them? What percentage of the kids in the study fell for it? Etc." As of this writing, we have yet to hear back from them.

Still, we think the overall lesson for the kids here is as follows: Don't believe everything you hear or read, on the Internet or elsewhere -- or, for that matter, in press releases.

UPDATE: After this piece was published, Donna Bone, the Project Coordinator and the New Literacies Research Lab, sent us an email in response to our request for the demographics of the participants in Dr. Leu's study. She said that the group monitored "our 50 best online readers" in 7th grade classes from "economically challenged" areas of South Carolina and Connecticut.