You’re damaging your brain with practical skills

Dad is typing away furiously at the computer, sweat glistening off his forehead. He is trying to make a Web page for his business. His 13-year-old son is across the room playing one of those horrible video games filled with mindless violence, bazooka-toting Barbarellas in hot pants, unshaven macho men blowing up anyone who pokes their head around a corner.

Everyone knows that this kid will grow up to be a violent, know-nothing sociopath who will be a drain on society for years to come. Everyone knows that video games are gradually sucking out his once-malleable brain and replacing it with oatmeal. As any pundit will tell you, the kid should be outside playing basketball or football with his friends; he should be outdoors breathing the fresh air, that his parents are letting him squander his best years in front of a video screen. They are raising another wastrel.

Dad stops typing and yells across the room to Billy, “What do you call those things that hold Web sites?”

Things that hold Web sites? Does he mean a bookmark? Does he mean an ISP? Does he mean a Web host?

“Server?” Billy guessed, not lifting his eyes from his IQ-draining game, which was wrecking his life.

I wonder how many professional basketball players and football players would have known the answer? Yet the pundits think that being the high school football hero is a wonderful achievement. It’s common pundit knowledge. Except for the gambling, the divorces, the steroid abuse and the building of wildly expensive stadiums with public money, sports build character.

There are plenty of examples of what pundits think is logical that is exactly opposite of what really works. There was a story recently about a college journalism freshman class that didn’t know the dates of the American Civil War. They couldn’t name an American Secretary of Defense. An absolute disgrace. Right? That’s why nothing gets done in this country, the schools have failed teaching kids important dates in history. Guess what? No Japanese kids can tell you the dates of the American Civil War. Nor can Italian kids or German kids or Korean kids or English kids. Yet they all seem able to make more popular cars than we do: Toyota, BMW, Fiat, Volvo, Mercedes. I wonder how many of their workers could tell you the capital of Kentucky? But they could all tell you one thing. The CEO of their company isn’t paying himself a $100 million a year plus bonuses. Maybe knowing the exact date that Lincoln got shot isn’t that important in the big scheme of things. Maybe historical dates and sports are the least important thing we should be concerned with in school, not the most.

“Servers! Yeah, that’s right,” said the helpless dad, digging into the keyboard once again. His son could have set up the Web page in minutes, but here was tough love, the kid was letting dad learn by doing.

Video games may be to computers what comic books were to me. I devoured them and still read a lot to this day. Thank you, Batman and Robin. I would guess today’s gamers will turn into tomorrow’s tech whizzes. Maybe we should teach video games in school instead of state capitals. We could hardly do worse.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2008, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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