Saturday, January 18, 2014

I don't get it...

Over a year and a half ago, I was sitting in a big district board room filled with empty chairs, and waiting for a board meeting to start when a friend of my mother’s approached me.  Her son went to school in my district and she was there to present flowers to her child’s teacher. 

She started telling me about her son and his class, “His class uses ipads!  Can you believe it?  When I was a kid I wasn’t smart enough to use an ipad, but kids these days are so much smarter.”  

She had no idea that I was holding in my hand a speech to the school board questioning the reason behind prioritizing the purchase of technology over an investment in their teachers…I nodded and said pleasantly, “Oh…uh huh…”  

But even though I've heard something similar from other people, it was her brief talk with me stuck in my mind all this time because she very simply laid out the misconception that most of the general public has: the mistake of equating the use of technology with intelligence.  

…and I don’t get it.    

While I agree that there are many brilliant people that use technology, and there are amazing things you can do with it.  I don’t agree that improved cognitive abilities are caused by the use of such devices, or a prerequisite for using the device, nor do I believe that the human brain in this time period is somehow more “enhanced” than those of people who grew up in a time without technology.  ...if anything, we have to compensate for less of a capacity to create, cope with stress, and be attentive.
Never mind that it would be a very bad business move for technology companies to make something that only geniuses could use…  It is however a terrific business move to convince the world that the children who use their products will somehow become brilliant because of it, or are brilliant simply because they can use it (and don’t get me started on technology corporate interests in public education).  The message people are unknowingly applying to their values from this is that accomplishing something with minimal effort, with speed, with just a click…means that person is “smarter”.

…and yes, it sounds ridiculous…but this notion is everywhere.  Districts and educators are praised for encouraging their students to stay glued to a screen during recess.  Video recording a “book report” is preferable over handwriting and illustrating.  Students sitting in front of screens is more acceptable than kids sculpting with clay.  Commercials on TV advertise the merits of handing the duty of reading with your child over to a device.  …and parents are so impressed with their child’s ability to play with a user friendly device like an ipad.  

We should absolutely take advantage of doing things quickly and efficiently in our world, but without first appreciating and empathizing with the slow way, the old way…without first holding in high regard the craft of creating...we only confuse the role of the people pushing a button with the people who created the button.   

For our children, promoting the use of minimal effort to an end result contributes to a lack of patience, and a lack of patience contributes to a lack of effort to think, follow through, and innovate…which in my mind contributes to a world of drooling, gaping idiots mindlessly staring at a screen, depending heavily on the innovation and thought of others.  …and I can’t help but think that that dependence makes the public very easily controlled, influenced, and insulated from what’s going on around them.

…which is why I’m confused when parents or educators think that introducing technology to young children somehow helps instill independence and intelligence.  I just see a young individual that doesn't know how that device works...but can't live without it, can’t entertain themselves, can’t peel their eyes away from that screen, is insecure about making mistakes, and is unskilled and unwilling to create something with his hands.  What’s so independent about that?  What’s so smart about that?  Look at the kid that’s never held an iphone.  He’s up in a tree reading a book, inside the fort he built himself.    
I’m far more impressed when I see young children building, knitting, sewing, gardening, handwriting, sculpting, inventing and creating with their own hands…especially through methods that are old, dated, and not generally used or appreciated anymore.  Why?  Because those are the people that will grow up understanding the history of why we need technology in the first place…and will have a broader independent point of view…more readily able to go in a new direction, see a need, think, invent, and take a chance on creating things we need that are even better.    

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you. It is so important that we don't let technology overtake humanity. Just because it shows that students can learn, that's not enough. Even if technology makes them learn faster, at what cost? Is intelligence our only goal? Maybe for beaurecrats is it, but not for us teachers. Can I share this with you? It is from the introduction to a book for teachers or parents called "Teacher and Child".

    Dear Teacher,

    I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness:

    Gas chambers built by learned engineers.

    Children poisoned by educated physicians.

    Infants killed by trained nurses.

    Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.

    So I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns.

    Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

    Haim Ginott, "Teacher and Child"