Cocoon Culture No.47

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This document was found on the address :

http://www.ndirect.co.uk/~sapere/Newswise/months/april99/cosen.html

Newswise is some form of online magazine with interesting topics.


Story 1 | Story 2 | Headlines | Hotlines | Key Notes | Key Concepts
Lines of research or speculation | Lines of philosophical enquiry
Lines of development and response | Lines of reasoning



Couch potato culture starts in the cradle
Source: Helen Carter, The Guardian, 22nd April 1999
Story 1


TODAY'S BABIES are in danger of becoming couch potatoes, according to a US study which found that changes in lifestyle meant parents were spending less time interacting with their children.

The average two-year-old American baby had spent an estimated 500 hours of its life strapped into a car seat, as opposed to an estimated 200 hours in the 1960s, said researchers at the University of Michigan.

Phyllis Weikart, one of the study's authors, said that crawling was important in improving a child's balance and co-ordination; if it was not encouraged, children could have difficulty moving opposite sides of their bodies.

Michael Wade, professor of kinesiology at the University of Minnesota, said: "Babies should be encouraged to move, kick and crawl. Movement is a major contributor to brain and learning development, and babies should be given this opportunity wherever possible."

Jan Parker, co-author of Raising Happy Children, which is published next month, said: "Toddlers need to be active, as they have a huge amount of energy.

"Few will sit happily in a buggy or car seat, then be pushed around a supermarket, then sit happily in the car on the way back home. Yet they are often chastised for throwing a tantrum.

"It is better for both the parent and child if the child is allowed to run around for a while.

"Most parents use television so they can get on with things. A quick burst of their favourite video when a child is feeling fractious may give them a chance to get tea ready.

"The main problem with TV and children is not what it may do to them, but what it stops them from doing - having the exercise and social contact they need to develop healthily and happily."

She said that it was vital for children to play in order that they could join in games and learn how to handle aggression. A health education authority spokesman said: "It is difficult to quantify, but the fact is that we do not believe that youngsters are eating more calories.

"However, they are getting fatter. That leads you to the conclusion that they are not exerting as much energy as previous generations."

However, Jeanette Garwood, senior lecturer in psychology at Huddersfield university, questioned whether there was any problem.

She said: "Babies were swaddled for centuries until the beginning of their second year, and they managed to catch up with their motor development milestones.

"This study is making great claims, given there is plenty of natural evidence to suggest that children do develop if restrained."



Home sweet digital home
Source: Emma Cook, The Independent on Sunday, 25 April 1999
Story 2


THE NEW 'cocooner' is no couch potato. But why go out when you can make the world come to you?

Greg Rowland last left his house around two days ago - he thinks. He says he popped out for a pint of rnilk the day before yesterday just between Fifteen To One and Countdown. Then he scuttled back to make his son's tea and catch Richard Whiteley on the box.

Greg wouldn't want you to assume he's a couch potato. He is a television critic, plays in a band, helps to look after his seven-month-old son and writes articles about the finer points of home living, such as pizza delivery etiquette.

Greg is one of a new breed of "cocooners" - people who believe their home is not just their castle but, thanks to technology and digital culture, their supermarket, cinema, games arcade and social life. Not for them the harsh realities of the external world; scrumming it on the Tube; schlepping to overcrowded bars and overrated restaurants. At 32, Greg is settling down, "not to a pipe and slippers but to the digital age".

He has a full and active life with his partner, son and friends; it's just that it all takes place within the four safe walls of home. "When my friends visit they say my house has a very strong centre of gravity," he says. 'They find themselves getting sucked in and never want to leave. Everything you'd want is on tap: food, drink, videos, large TV and comics." He is, naturally an avid e-mailer and internet user.

Soon, even more of us will become cocooners. According to a survey by Active Centre Management Associates published last week, half of all retail sales will take place on the internet in 10 years' time. UK shoppers spent 500m on five billion online purchases last year, and based on the fact that the internet attracts 11,000 new subscribers each day, the study predicts that website shopping could well rise to 6bn by 2003, providing us with door-to-door deliveries on a daily basis of groceries, books, clothes, holidays - even your favourite LP. If this sealed existence seems a little, well, slobby, you can always call a personal trainer.

That we're a nation of stay-at-home DIY-ers is an established fact; first there was Changing Rooms and now there's Ground Force, vehicle for the famously bra-less gardener Charlie Dimmock, which is BBC1's most popular programme, after Eastenders.

But when we're not rag-rolling or building water features in our backyard, we like to take it easy. In fact, we are chomping our way through more TV-type dinners and other convenience foods than ever before - 6.6bn-worth. Tesco's has announced it will expand its hugely successful internet home delivery service from two London stores to more than a 100 nationwide by Christmas.

And in the same week we heard about a home device called the Bluetooth, which will, apparently, revolutionise our domestic lives: a mobile phone will be able to "communicate" with all our household appliances, make shopping lists and record TV programmes.

But critics have suggested that feathering the nest this much and making our lives so much easier in such a self-indulgent fashion will make us fat, anti-social and lazy. One recent study Young People, New Media, carried out at the London School of Economics, concluded that teenagers rarely venture into the outside world. Last week University of Minnesota researchers claimed that changes in lifestyle meant babies were becoming more inert, spending hours in front of the television or strapped into a car seat. This has increased worries that children are more overweight than ever before.

Yet for all that, the majority of us are hardly ever at home. Working hours are longer and more harrowing; while employees yearn to be home-based, plenty are increasingly office-bound. No wonder; then, that the home is such a powerful focus for our fantasies, a refuge for our shattered egos and identities.

"Being at home is about having your own agenda," says Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson. "Reflecting and doing things you enjoy doing; creating your own experience rather than believing other people's idea of fun."

But the notion of the home-as-insulated-capsule is bound to cause moral indignation; any pleasurable pursuit that can be enjoyed alone usually does. That doesn't mean it's bad for you; nor that you are inward looking and self-indulgent. Hodgkinson suggests that guilt is to blame for the inevitable criticism of cocoon culture. "People are guilty that life can be made easier; it's a sort of collective masochism," he says.

Essential to the 1990s cocoon is choice; to be able to furnish it digitally, electronically - and stylishly. But, more importantly choice means that you want to be there in the first place. If your cocoon is anything less than a conscious lifestyle decision, then probably the best thing you could do is get out a little more.


Headlines (Story 2)

The following are possible headlines for the leader (second article). Make a quick list of them in the order you think fits the story - from best to worst (e.g. e, f, a, b, d, c). Then compare your list with your neighbour's, or with others in a small group, and try to come up with an agreed order of merit. Be prepared to justify your arrangement in discussion with the others in the class.

You could also invent headlines of your own in pairs or small groups and decide as a class which are the best three or four.

  • Internet or Internest?
  • Tesco's leads online shopping boom
  • Home-loving and home-living
  • Work revolution reaches home
  • Settling down to the digital age
  • Who's in and who's out?

The thinking skill being practised in the above exercise is that of homing in on the main idea of an article or argument. There are at least three aspects to this: firstly, the identification of the particular conclusion that the writer would wish us to draw; secondly, an awareness of the force of feeling behind the article; and thirdly, a sensitivity to the style or tone of the writer.


Hotlines (Story 2)

Imagine you have been given the task of interviewing the editor of Idler magazine, Tom Hodgkinson. Discuss with your neighbour or in small groups what questions you might ask him, and select one or two that you would recommend to the whole group.

When all recommended questions have been put on a board, the whole group should try and agree on the order of questions for an interviewer's clipboard.

A final stage in this section could be for individuals or small groups to speak or write possible replies by the minister for each question.

Thinking skills involved: interrogating, and changing perspective.


Key notes (Story 2)

The following key notes have been extracted from the story and arranged in the correct order. They should be enough to reconstruct the whole story pretty accurately. You could do this in a number of ways.

One way is to work in pairs recalling to each other as much of the original detail as you can to add to the structure given you by the key notes.

This exercise can then be turned into a whole class speaking activity by taking key notes at random, e.g. 'settling down', and asking individuals to explain how they fit into the story as a whole. Alternatively, the first person to give an explanation could nominate both the next key note and the next person to explain it, who in turn nominates the next one, and so on.

The ultimate speaking exercise would be to prepare a full summary of the article to be delivered to the class with simply the key notes to hand. Since later speakers would be at an advantage in having heard earlier speakers make their attempts - and also to avoid long and tedious repetition - all students might be asked to prepare the whole speech, but in the event each one delivers only a fraction of it, say 3 keynotes each for 13 students. To make this work, the 39 key notes should be clearly divided into 13 groups of 3. Each group should be allocated to a different student - who will only be told to 'take up the story' when their group comes round.

An alternative to speaking exercises is for each student to write a precis of the article - i.e. a shorter version, about half as long. (You may decide to ignore some of notes that are not so important, but you must aim to keep the basic structure of the argument.)

And another exercise would be to rewrite the article entirely in your own words, choosing a structure and style to suit your own purpose - e.g. to make it more appealing to a teenage audience. (You might prefer, for example, to present fewer facts but to express your own opinions more strongly.)

Here are the key notes:

Greg Rowland, milk, tea, Countdown, TV critic, band, seven-month son, pizza article, cocooner, digital culture, harsh realities, Tube, over-crowded, settling down, active life, safe walls, sucked in, on tap, email / internet user, survey, half sales on internet 10 years, 11,000 subscribers each day, daily deliveries, DIY-ers, Changing Rooms / Ground Force, TV dinners, Tesco's 2 to 100 by Christmas, Bluetooth / household appliances, self-indulgent fashion, LSE study, teenagers rarely venture, babies more inert / overweight, majority office-bound, home refuge, own agenda, moral indignation, guilt to blame, collective masochism, choice / conscious lifestyle decision

Thinking skills involved: extracting key information, and structuring an argument


Key concepts (Both stories)

There are a few key ideas that link the two articles: lifestyle, leisure and laziness; confinement and social contact; social and technological change; and, perhaps not so obviously but quite importantly, research and evidence.

The latter two are important because there is tendency on reading reports such as these, featuring research into social trends, to feel that everyone is caught up in one vast fashion. (There would be a particular irony to that in this case, since the last thing 'cocooners' see themselves as doing is following a fashion: their determination is to 'create' their own lifestyle and agenda, 'rather than believing other people's idea of fun'. More about this in a moment.) It is proper to be sceptical, however, about social research, and in particular to question the evidence upon which it is based.

For example, the Minnesota study was not, of course, a detailed survey of the daily life of every single American baby. It was almost certainly a survey of a 'representative' sample - like any opinion poll for elections - but how truly such samples represent or reflect the actual situation is always open to question. To be fair, the researchers offer only an 'estimate' of the length of time the 'average' two-year-old American baby spends in a car seat, and in a way their 'claim' is not so great. That there should have been an increase in time spent by babies in cars is really no surprise in itself - more families than ever have cars in America and elsewhere, and more people take their babies shopping with them rather than relying upon neighbours or relatives to look after them. Of course, if it could be shown that an increase from about 200 hours in the 1960s to about 500 hours in the 1990s was critically damaging the development of babies, a radical change of parental behaviour might be called for. But the report of the research does not seem to offer any evidence to this effect. Indeed, both the research and the report amount to little more than an urging of American parents to compensate for the increasing time babies spend in cars by ensuring plenty of other opportunities for them to stretch their legs.

Similar scepticism about the validity of the studies in the second article might be in order. The survey by Active Centre Management Associates seems particularly open to question for the rather peculiar figures of 500m spent on 5 billion online purchases in the UK last year. This averages at 10p per purchase. With figures like this, one is tempted to say, who needs surveys?! Again, though, to be fair, it seems more than likely that online shopping will make a big impact on people's lifestyles in the near future, and we would all do well to try and work out how best to accommodate such changes in our own lives.

As to the LSE suggestion that teenagers rarely venture into the outside, that does not seem to square very well with media or middle-age concern about teenagers roaming the streets or staying out late. Our society is a very big and complex one, and there will be many teenagers who do not recognise the picture portrayed by the LSE, just as there will be many adults who do not recognise the picture portrayed of working hours and conditions by the reporter.

When all is said and done, though, it is clear that technological change is all around us, and it is certainly bringing new choices and changes to people's lives. The world wide web is less than 10 years old, but has already made a vast difference to people in businesses and in their leisure times.

Those who are not so familiar with the Internet, how it works and what it offers, may not be best placed to judge, in the end, as to whether it is more likely to be a force for good and happiness in the world, or for bad and misery. The lurid headlines and speculations about its influence on the teenage killers at Columbine High School certainly gives one pause for thought. On the other hand, (we say unashamedly) the Internet is also the means whereby these very words have reached you - and we earnestly hope that you may turn them to some good!

This hope/belief was best express by another reporter, David Aaronovitch, shortly after the Columbine tragedy when he said, "Teachers need to keep an eye on who is having a bad time, and be ready to offer help. But above all, parents who have enough should ask how much more they really need. Kids are kids once. That's it. They take their values from us and what we do, not from what we preach. In the age of the Internet we cannot prevent them from having knowledge that we do not like, but we can help them to understand what should be done with it.

At a guess, I'd say understanding and discussion were what Eric and Dylan didn't get enough of."

We certainly want to encourage discussion about, and understanding of, the social - and educational - impact of the Internet. In particular, it is worth noting that its use need not always be for the private individual 'cocooned' within their own four walls. Certainly people can choose to hide themselves away and welcome no human company but only fantastical images on their screens. But, equally, others may take the opportunity of downloading a vast range of 'real' images and constructive ideas, ideas which may give them a window into other people's minds and lives.

People like Greg Rowland clearly lead lively social lives, largely within the confines of their own homes. For them the boundary between work and leisure may be much looser than for most people, and perhaps happily so. Doing exactly what you want to do, at least for some part of your life, is not so very far from the ancient Greek objective of 'flourishing' - which was thought to be a rather essential part of human happiness. But to keep an eye also on one's health is prudent as well, and Emma Cook's ironic remark about going online to find a personal trainer is not so far from the mark either. 'Mens sana in corpore sano' - 'a healthy mind in a healthy body' - is also a Greek idea (though rendered in Latin) that has stood the test of time very well. We may all be living in some sort of cocoon or other, and naturally we may hope to furnish it 'stylishly'; perhaps the choice of lifestyle we should make most consciously is to furnish our cocoon with physical as well as digitally-induced excitements.


Key concepts task

The following concepts, several of which are mentioned above, could be useful in thinking further about issues raised by the article. Try to establish connections between concepts in one list and those in the other; and whenever you find a link, try to explain how the two concepts are connected.

LIST ONE: lifestyle, leisure, laziness, confinement, contact, change, cocooner, evidence, research, fashion, agenda, fun, survey, representative, scepticism, validity, flourishing

LIST TWO: objectives, restriction, accuracy, company, interaction, loner, fulfilment, proof, pleasure, values, questionnaire, innovation, happiness, custom, trend, study, freedom, idleness, typical, doubt

Look at some of the pairs you have connected above, or any other pairs, and observe next what makes the concepts different from each other. Can we say that one concept is always more important than another?


Lines of research and speculation (Both stories)

  1. How many American parents would you need to interview or observe before making an 'educated' estimate of how much time the entire set spend interacting with their children?
  2. If you were more interested in the quality of time they spent with their children than the length of time, how would you set about trying to gauge it?
  3. What is a professor of kinesiology? How might Michael Wade pass his working day? How many different sorts of professors are there at a typical British university?
  4. What exactly was 'swaddling', and why was it done? How widespread was the practice?
  5. How do people get to be television critics?
  6. If half of all retail (= shopping) sales do take place on the internet in 10 years' time, how might that affect the present retail industry?
  7. How much per purchase is 5 billion purchases costing 500 million? Do you suspect an error? Could you guess/find out the 'real' figures?
  8. How many households (with at least one adult) are there in the UK? How long would it take for them all to be subscribed to the Internet at 11,000 new subscribers per day?
  9. When was the London School of Economics founded? Can you study only economics there? Why would a school of economics be studying teenage lifestyles?
  10. Most educated people are familiar with the word 'masochist' to describe a person who seems to get some sort of pleasure from physical pain, but is it a recognised medical condition? Is it treatable? Does it need to be?

Lines of philosophical enquiry (Both stories)

  1. What is dangerous about becoming a couch potato?
  2. It is often plain what encouragement is intended to achieve in terms of others' actions - but what do we suppose it is actually achieving in terms of others' thoughts and feelings?
  3. Should children really be given the opportunity to move 'wherever possible'?
  4. Are only children fractious?
  5. What does television 'do' to children that might be perceived to be a problem?
  6. What reasons might there be for believing that social contact is essential for children if they are to develop happily?
  7. What exactly is it to 'handle' aggression?
  8. Do you always have to exert your will in order to exert your energy?
  9. If there is 'natural' evidence for something, could we assume there is also 'unnatural' evidence? What might 'unnatural evidence' be? (Try to think of actual cases.) Is one sort of evidence better than the other?
  10. Would being a television critic be enough to stop one being a couch potato?
  11. Is pizza delivery etiquette among the finer points of home living? If so, why? If not, what might be counted among such points?
  12. When does one cross the line into a particular culture, e.g. the couch potato culture, or the digital culture? Is it always/ever a conscious choice to do so?
  13. Is attraction to a place, or even a person, a sort of gravitational force? If not, is it any sort of force?
  14. What might we assume is the central (!) focus of the Active Centre Management Associates?
  15. Might society be dividing into the 'deliverers' and the 'receivers'?
  16. How can a TV programme be a 'vehicle' for a person?
  17. Are all foods bought at the supermarket 'convenience' foods?
  18. Is it self-indulgent to accuse others of being self-indulgent?
  19. Could making one's own life easier actually be the opposite of anti-social?
  20. What makes an experience harrowing? How would we know whether work is getting more harrowing?
  21. Is the grass always greener on the other side? If so, what does this tell us about the human psyche?
  22. How do egos and identities get to be shattered in 'the outside world'?
  23. In how much of our daily lives do we have our own agenda? Would it be good to increase this time?
  24. How could you set about 'creating your own experience'?
  25. Does 'any pleasurable pursuit that can be enjoyed alone' usually cause moral indignation? If so, is this because of guilt? or collective masochism? (Are these two possible causes connected?)
  26. Why is it thought necessary to furnish one's cocoon stylishly? What would this mean in practice?
  27. How would one know that one wanted to be where one was?

Lines of development and response

After discussion, you can also compose a message to send to the Newswise forum expressing your class's views on some of the issues. Don't worry if there is no unanimity (i.e. full agreement). On the contrary it would be valuable to you, and to others reading your letter, if you were able to express the disagreement clearly, preferably giving reasons one way and the other. Other people or classes might then discuss your ideas further and report back to you.

Here are a few practical questions you might focus on, but you would be welcome to record any other issues that come up for you.

Television and lifestyles: There are various aspects to the use of television that might be of interest to survey and discuss. One is the actual use of it by your classmates or other groups, including parents. Each member of the class might make a record of their viewing during a particular week, and the results could be collated. (A distinction might be drawn between watching TV programmes and watching videos; and more detailed surveys could break TV programmes down into different categories.) This sort of thing is done routinely on a national scale - hence the information that Ground Force is BBC1's second most popular programme. You might compare your class results with the national figures. You might even discuss in advance what you think the national top ten programmes might be, and then compare.

But a main purpose of any survey might be to see if the thesis (= argument) of the article about people's lifestyles tallies with your own experiences. So you might broaden your research to include other aspects of teenage life, such as how often you and your peers 'venture into the outside world'. Could it be that the LSE have a strange definition of 'the outside world'? (But can you agree a clear definition of your own?) Other aspects that you might consider drafting into your survey could be: size and number of televisions in each household; use of the internet/email; calorie consumption, energy use, weights; consumption of convenience foods - but again, aim for a clear definition before you start.

Growth and development: Through asking your biology teachers, or by other research, see if you can establish whether there is any agreement about the stages or 'milestones' of human motor (= movement) development. If so, try to plot them on a display chart, preferably with accompanying diagrams. There are, sadly, people who do not develop in the 'normal' way. Again by asking biology or medical experts, or by contacting various charities, such as Scope, see if you can find out the different hindrances to normal growth - and what, if anything, can be done to compensate those who are so hindered.

There are also thought to be 'milestones' in children's mental/intellectual growth. Shaping their first words and then their first sentences are obvious signs of such growth. A famous psychologist, Jean Piaget, came up with a theory or model of such growth, including the idea that children could not develop 'abstract' reasoning until around the age of 10 or 11. People nowadays tend not to think rigidly about such stages, believing that different children develop in different ways at different times, but still you may have little doubt that your own brain/intellect has grown considerably in the last few years. Looking back, individually or in pairs, see if you can identify moments in your own lives when you seem to have taken a bit of a leap forward in your understanding. You could approach this either by thinking of capacities (e.g. at that age I could not ..., but then I could); or you could think of fairly sudden realisations (e.g. it was not until my nth year that I realised there were more languages than English).

Television criticism: It would be interesting to compare the styles of different TV critics, and especially what they may have to say about the same programmes. Collect as many previews and reviews as you can from different papers and magazines and stick them onto a display chart, with observations of your own about the differences and similarities. You could extend this project to include film criticism - and then perhaps have a try at a film review/criticism of your own, which could be published in the class or perhaps even the school magazine.

Door-to-door deliveries: For most people, this service is still confined to delivery by the milkman, but it seems clear that it might be a growing business. (Iceland, like Tesco's, also has a home delivery service, and of course Interflora have been delivering flowers to people's homes for years.) See how many businesses in your locality do actually have a delivery service. You might, then, send them a questionnaire to try and discover what proportion of their business is done in this way, and what the costs to them and the charges to the customers are. Do any of them have plans for expansion? How would they organise and change their business accordingly? You might have a Tesco's store nearby, and with a bit of luck you might be able to persuade them to let you look behind the scenes at their stocking and delivery systems and plans. Don't forget, this looks like being their future - if not yours!

As well as researching this from the local point of view, you might also do a bit of research on the Internet itself. How many major companies now have an online ordering service? How many of you or your parents already use it? How easily do you think you and your family could 'take' to regular shopping online?

Working hours: The claim that working hours are longer and more harrowing nowadays than before might not sound very good news as you prepare to enter adult working life. Is it a true claim? How could you check it? What do the history books/teachers tell you, for a start, about working hours and conditions 150, 100 and 50 years ago? You could also check out the government statistics on this. And, of course, another resource is again the local community. What do your parents and neighbours say about their working lives? How have they seem them change over the last 20 years? What further changes do they expect over the next 20 years? You might show them a copy of the article, Home Sweet Digital Home. What do they think of it? - If/when you get some answers to some of these questions, see if you can produce a newspaper-style report of your own about possible working patterns in the 21st century.

The Idler: See if you can get hold of a copy of the Idler, and if you have the interest try to read some of it. You may not, of course, feel like doing much more!


Lines of reasoning (First story)

Newspaper reports almost always tell stories, but many of them also contain 'arguments'. These are not quite like the spoken arguments that may be heard between two or more people. They are pieces or else a piece of REASONING that lead to a certain CONCLUSIONS. If people wish to disagree with the conclusions, they will need to say what is wrong with the reasoning that leads to them.

Here is a simple line of reasoning, for example, that somehow goes wrong (can you see how?):

  • "I know someone who has a wonderful collection of bugs. I bet he's even got one of those millennium bugs in his collection."

It goes wrong, of course, because of a misunderstanding of the word 'bug': the millenium bug is not the normal sort of bug, not one that you can collect like beetles, etc.

There are all sorts of ways in which people's lines of reasoning may go wrong. For now we are simply going to look at a couple of arguments - lines of reasoning - from the main article and uncover how they work.

Example A. The first example is from the middle of the article and goes like this:

"If children don't get exercise and playtime with others, they will not develop healthily and happily."

This argument seems very reasonable, but it is worth examining it in a little depth. As usual, we can ask a few questions to test it out.

  1. Would children develop healthily and happily if they had plenty of exercise, but no playtime? (If not, why not?)
  2. Would children develop healthily and happily if they had plenty of playtime, but no exercise? (If not, why not?)
  3. Do all children who have plenty of exercise and playtime develop healthily and happily? (If not, why not?)

This particular argument turns out to be not as simple as it might have first appeared. Partly this is because its key ideas are not so simple. The more you think about health and happiness, the less simple they become. Even taking them separately there is a bit of a problem, because good health does not seem always to be a result of exercise - you may know some healthy people who exercise very little, and others who exercise a lot but seem not very healthy. And similar problems arise in regard to happiness: not all games result in happy players!

Another reason why the argument is a little questionable is that it misses out some 'middle' stages that would make it stronger. It needed further explanation along the lines that exercise helps to develop strength in the muscles - which is part of what it is to be healthy; or that playtime gives children feelings of freedom and belonging - which most people count as part of human happiness. The next argument from the article also makes a big jump from start to finish (conclusion) and would have been stronger if the middle stage had been spelled out. See what you make of it.

Example B. "Youngsters are not eating more calories nowadays than in the past. However, they are getting fatter. That leads to the conclusion that they are not using as much energy as previous generations."

Which of the following statements do you think could have been put in the middle to strengthen this argument?

  1. If you sit watching television, you will not be using much energy.
  2. If you do not work off the energy that calories give you, it will turn into fat.
  3. If you are young in the modern world, you will be eating all sorts of things that previous generations never ate.

Example C. The first paragraph of the article also seems to be putting forward an argument, but in this case the middle stage is even more difficult to grasp. When examining arguments, it helps to set out the stages simply and clearly in the following way, with the conclusion being marked by the word 'So':

"Modern parents do not talk and play enough with their babies... So, those babies are in danger of becoming couch potatoes."

The question to fill the gap here is:

1. Why SHOULD babies who do not getting enough talk and play with their parents end up as couch potatoes?

Partly this may have to do with their not getting enough physical exercise through play, and partly it may have to do with their not getting enough practice in social contact through talk.

But 2. Could it also have to do with their not getting enough mental exercise?

For 3. Isn't part of what we mean by 'couch potato' that the person lacks mental energy and initiative?

But then, 4. What evidence is there that a person's mental energy and initiative depends on how much their parents talk and play with them?

There may very well be such evidence, of course, but the point is that it is not made clear in the article, or even in the research study as far as we can tell.

Example D. Finally, here are a couple of other arguments in the article that you might like to ask questions about yourself:

  • "Movement contributes a lot to brain and learning development. So, children should be encouraged to move, kick and crawl."
  • "Toddlers have a huge amount of energy. So, they need to be active."
  • "Children do develop even if restrained. So, this study may be exaggerating."

 

This document was found on the address

http://www.ndirect.co.uk/~sapere/Newswise/months/april99/cosen.html

Newswise is some form of online magazine with interesting topics.

 
Copyright 1999-2002 Cocoon culture no.47 . All rights reserved.
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