Endangered Minds

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

ENDANGERED MINDS suggests that our current crisis in education has deep roots. Healy argues that contemporary society systematically undernourishes the growing brains of our children at key developmental junctures. The predominance of two income families leads to a pattern of haphazard child care, diminishing the number of opportunities for children to learn basic conversation skills. Television and video games absorb the time of children to the exclusion of reading and other forms of play, preempting important exercises in imagination and interactive communication. Even the much revered “Sesame Street” encourages a short attention span and fails to address the real educational needs of preschoolers. Likewise, trendy educational experiments designed to accelerate learning are often out of phase with the needs of young brains. Poverty exacerbates these problems for a growing number of children. As a result, our society fails to foster the physical development of young brains necessary for sophisticated command of language, analytic rigor, and sustained thought.

In addition to her attack on “Sesame Street,” Healy offers a clear challenge to true believers in phonics, cultural literacy, and other popular panaceas. She also expands the scope of analysis beyond the boundaries of the schoolyard, recognizing that the process of education involves broader social and life-style questions.

While expanding the scope of inquiry somewhat, Healy fails to consider the possible effects on education of avid materialism and continuous moral upheaval. Moreover, at many point in Healy’s argument crucial data admittedly is lacking or inconclusive. Because of these shortcomings, ENDANGERED MINDS succeeds as a call for focused research rather than as a convincing diagnosis or plan for reform. It should encourage additional efforts to understand, on a profound level, why today’s children seem to be so difficult to educate.