A terribly unfunny YouTube video

I was able to secure an iMac for my classroom, and I love it.  I use it everyday for everything from email and our google docs to running my document camera through it.  Of course this includes watching YouTube videos.  YouTube is an amazing resource for mathematical videos like this, this, and this one, but it is naturally also a resource for terrible crap.

As the above xkcd comic explains, YouTube viewing has inherent cultural problems.  Students love to try and show me various viral videos, including the one below. In it, a young boy focuses on a computer maze game.  As he finishes the third level, a loud and scary face appears, leaving the boy terrified, upset, and seemingly traumatized.

With tens of millions of views and shares, this video is certainly viral, and it has all of the tell-tale signs.  It is reality footage in rather raw form, and we get to painlessly observe someone else’s misfortune.  Many, including some of my students, unfortunately, think it’s quite funny.  I can hardly watch it.

Obviously the boy is being treated somewhat cruelly by someone he trusts, someone who is making fun of his fear and helplessness, but what I can’t stand has to do with learning.

Before being so brutally shocked and terrified, the boy is working hard to complete the game.  “Why can’t I touch this?” he asks timidly, trying to make sense of the challenge.  To me, he looks like someone deeply engaged in the mental crunch that constitutes great learning – the kind that makes your brain hurt.  He’s dropped his guard, is unafraid of failure, and makes steady progress towards the goal.  At the very moment he finishes the third level and should be rewarded, he is punished and terrorized.

It’s beyond cruel.  It is sincerely horrible, and I am convinced it must have had lasting impact on this boy’s psyche.

* * *

Though this is an extreme example, I had this kind of thing in mind when I wrote this post called “Letting students be dead wrong.”  When we ask students to really stretch themselves, challenge themselves, and learn with serious concentration, we are asking them to trust us.  We’re asking them to let down their guard and be somewhat vulnerable so that they can devote every shred of their conscious thought to learning something tough.

As teachers, we are given tremendous trust and charged with developing the one thing most central to our students, their minds.  We’re asked to tinker with their brains, and in the process, we have the potential to do great damage if we act irresponsibly.

If videos like this are indicative of the way our culture mistreats or devalues learners, we have work to do to restore the sanctity of learning.  Even with the best of intentions, school done badly can be very harmful.  It can crush the spirits and creative spark of our children and impose inappropriate performance demands.  I’m not so anti-school, but I certainly wonder sometimes about what this school system can really accomplish, and its unintended consequences.

In medicine and education – first, do no harm.

12 responses to “A terribly unfunny YouTube video

  1. Well unfortunately not everyone is trying to shape this world into an intellectual utopia…

    • True indeed. I’m not sure I’m going for intellectual utopia either, frankly, but if we’re going to devote this much money to education, and if we’re going to get politically up in arms about it, we’d better do it right! Our students, the ones we’re forcing through and supposedly serving, deserve that.

      The fact is lots of people see no good reason to care about school, and plenty have good reason not to.

  2. I really hate that video too, it’s so sad how he gets into solving the puzzle only to be punished. What sort of lesson is that? Also, what sort of person would enjoy scaring their own kid like that? It just seems cruel.

    • So sad, really. A student came into class today saying, “Sorry Mr. Salomon, but that is a hilarious video!” Some of the other kids hadn’t seen it, so we played it. Many laughed until the last little bit.

      The kid is crying and terrified, and his dad is just filming him silently. “OK, I can’t watch this part,” he said, “it’s pretty sad now.”

      I said, “imagine what the next hour is like, as the kid tries to figure out how much he can trust his own parent and whether or not things will jump out at him.”

      So cruel. Thanks for agreeing with me!

  3. I’m not sure this video represents a broad cultural trend towards penalizing learning in any kind of coherent way – whoever did this wanted to scare the kid during an otherwise relaxed moment, the fact that he happened while he was undergoing a learning process was probably accidental.

    That said, I agree with your point.

    • I’m sure that there is no conscious trend against learners, but this video is most definitely one of a series of similar videos in which some poor unsuspecting person concentrates hard on something only to be played the fool and made fun of.

      We love to pull the rug out and watch ’em fall. That is pretty bad across the board, but really hits my nerve when it has to do with learning.

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. Great blog post. You make an excellent and sensible argument for the sanctity all students should have as learners.

  5. so sad, I remember that happening to me. Also reminds me of that game “nightmare” where you have to put in the VHS and stare at the screen

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