March 1998


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  Growing Up Digital:
The Rise of the Net Generation

Don Tapscott
McGraw-Hill, 1998

Reviewed by Stephen Oliver

Strong shelves buckle from the sheer number of recent publications promising to be authoritative guides to the impact of the Internet on our lives. Yet most books, unfortunately, fall far short of their claim because they fail to incorporate the vision and influence of our best, net experts – our children, our students.

Don Tapscott’s most recent work, Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, is a welcome and insightful reading of a plugged-in generation poised to fashion radical change on almost all aspects of our society.

In North America, "N-Genners" number more than 80 million and range in age from diapers to diplomas. Unlike their settled baby boomer parents, this generational echo is bored by remote and passive one-way television. The "N-Gen" understands and craves the immediate multi-path interactivity offered by new electronic media.

"For the first time in history, children are more comfortable, knowledgeable and literate than their parents about an innovation central to society, and parents are unnerved," says Tapscott. Forget the generation gap. What is essentially happening right now, he argues, is a "generation lap." Our children are now the authority in an increasingly digital domain where adults struggle to keep pace.

Growing Up Digital is the product of a year-long creative collaboration of hundreds of young people and adults on six continents communicating over the Internet. Tapscott has created a somewhat anecdotal but valuable freeze-frame portrait of an articulate and hopeful generation we see everyday in our classrooms.

Of particular interest to educators are the chapters on the "N-Gen Mind" and "N-Gen Learning." Taken together, these 72 pages provide convincing evidence of a generation that truly does act, and think, "out-of-the-box."

The author’s conclusions will not please those dedicated to the brick-and-mortar educational status quo, but if Tapscott is correct, our schools, businesses and governments must all undergo a fundamental change in order to avoid an inevitable generational collision course where the analog losers are labeled irrelevant.

Some judicious digital compression would have benefited this book. Tapscott, at times, needlessly repeats points stated persuasively in earlier chapters. Parents and teachers may also find themselves questioning a number of the broad behavioural and interest generalizations Tapscott uses to support his "N-Gen" age range of two to 22 years.

This book predicts a bright future for young people who now have free access to the ’net, but does little to trumpet the cause of those students who are "unplugged" or "bandwidth-challenged."

Tapscott provides a compelling intellectual roadmap for anyone who wants to raise, educate, understand, or do business with today’s fearless Net Generation. On the whole, Growing Up Digital is a worthy read. Don’t forget to sample the book’s web site at

Stephen Oliver is a digital media studies teacher at Central Huron Secondary School in Clinton.

The Right to Learn

Linda Darling-Hammond
San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1997

Reviewed by Rick Chambers

In a little over 300 pages, The Right to Learn tracks the educational reform movement of the last few years, takes stock of its impediments, celebrates the pockets of achievement, and charts a direction for the teaching profession and the policymakers with whom we must work. Linda Darling-Hammond’s book is informed, logical, well-documented and convincing.

The author acknowledges that reform in education will happen only in individual classrooms led by innovative, informed and creative teachers. As she says, "The opportunity to be effective is the single most powerful motivator for entering and staying in teaching and for triggering commitment and effort."

In the chapter "Creating Standards Without Standardization," Darling-Hammond urges teachers to assert their professionalism through self-regulation: "Standards of practice … are not prescriptions; instead they reflect shared norms and knowledge about underlying principles of practice, the effects of various techniques, and decision-making processes."

She admonishes policymakers and politicians for short-sighted and unsupported initiatives: "Telling schools to change has never worked to produce markedly different teaching over many decades of efforts at curriculum reform …. Policymakers must build capacity for and commitment to the work required rather than assuming that edicts alone will produce the new practice they envision."

Darling-Hammond, an American, promotes the role of an organization like the Ontario College of Teachers for the professional life of teachers: "An occupation becomes a profession when it assumes responsibility for developing a shared knowledge base for all of its members and for transmitting that knowledge through professional education, licensing, and ongoing peer review."

The Right to Learn is written in clear, cogent language, unobtrusively substantiated by recent research. It’s the kind of book you should read, share with teachers in the staff room and give to the chair of your school council. You also might like to share it with a trustee, or MPP. The Right To Learn should be required reading for teachers, parents and politicians.

Rick Chambers, who taught English for 27 years, is a program officer in the College’s Professional Affairs Department.