21st century child neglect.

17 10 2011

Yeah, let’s pick on Rupert Murdoch again. In his education speech last Friday, Murdoch also said:

What technology can do is give teachers closer, more human and more rewarding interactions with their students.

So Jefferson was the Antichrist, democracy is fascism, black is white, night is day and computers facilitate “closer, more human” interactions? Education reform isn’t Fox News, Rupert. You can’t just make stuff up and assume people will believe you. Or maybe the problem here is that he can because nobody cares about the human toll created by the technological determinists’ misguided reform efforts.

A few weeks ago, one of my graduate students told me there’s such a thing as online Kindergarten. Upon hearing this I tweeted:

I actually used the word “neglect” very deliberately there. It’s not abuse to stick headphones on kids and ignore them for a little while. [That's why we got the minivan with the DVD player installed into the headrest of the front seat.] However, the more time kids spend listening and watching, the less time they get to interact with their peers and their teachers. Neglecting them a little is OK. Building a whole elementary school based on keeping them occupied this way is not. Even if there are no physical bruises, an entirely online education at such a young age will leave them socially stunted in the long run.*

So when Rupert Murdoch tells me that sitting in front of a computer will produce more meaningful interactions between teachers and their students, I’m left scratching my head. I thought a human relationship required two human beings to be part of it, not two humans and a computer. How exactly does slapping earphones onto a child make it possible for he or she to get to know their teacher better?

All that aside, I still think there are ways that technology can improve education; just not through the self-contained computer programs that Rupert wants to sell everyone. Among her many causes, UD has a category entitled “powerpoint pissoff,” which categorizes the many abuses of that particular technology. Many of those posts are stories of professors who fill their slides with text, read that text verbatim and use it to separate themselves from their inevitably bored students.

On the other hand, as I’ve written before, PowerPoint can also be a remarkably useful tool for bringing pictures into the classroom that would not be easy to bring in otherwise. Pictures, like video, when used right should be a way to bring students into historical analysis, not a way to shut them out. It’s through the ensuing discussions that students can really get to know their teachers and teachers can really get to know their students.

Too bad that’s not going to happen when all the kids in the world are strapped into headphones all day and every college student in America (who isn’t in the Ivy League) is watching videotaped lectures in their pajamas.

* Don’t get me started on home schooling. Just don’t.

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5 responses

17 10 2011
Jonathan Dresner

“Don’t get me started on home schooling. Just don’t.”

OK, we can have that discussion another time, but not all Home school families are trying to isolate their children, except perhaps from a toxic testing regimen and academic malpractice.

17 10 2011
Historiann

Did Jonathan Rees make blanket statements about the goals of home schoolers in this post? I must have missed that completely.

I wonder what the double-blind peer-reviewed studies on computer-based curricula for pre-literate children say about their effectiveness? (Not really. I just think the idea of computer ed for Kindergartners is completely LOLsob.)

Maybe all of those homeschool families with online Kindergarteners are busy with trips to natural history museums, zoos, fine arts museums, history museums, playgrounds, arboretums, and local universities. Maybe.

17 10 2011
Music for Deckchairs

Look, I think it’s once again a matter of the difference between computers in education and computers as education.

Taking off my online charlatan hat for a moment and donning instead my parent hat (I have three children in the Australian K-6 system, including one who is proud as a button to be in K), I can say that the introduction of computers in the classroom has been the real marker of generational transformation between my 12 year old and my six year old.

All Australian classrooms now come equipped with smartboards, and my six year old comes home to keep going with homework that she chooses to do because it’s via an online games site, and when she’s completed her tasks, she’s earned points with which she can decorate a small and simply designed virtual bedroom. She can also check out her classmates’ avatars, so even from home she has a sense that learning is an adventure they’re all on together.

All this has made learning fun for her, just as any other classroom clapping game. It hasn’t stopped her reading books or climbing trees.

Meanwhile, this same smartboard that converts into an interactive videoconference screen has enabled my ten year old to be part of an introductory short course in Mandarin delivered from Sydney that would never have been able to be delivered on the premises when there are only four children in her year group.

The equity problems are serious—it’s still not reasonable to assume a computer in every home, let alone broadband—but so is the potential.

19 10 2011
Teevee not for tots–but online Kindergarten = awesome? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

[...] yet, we we hear from Jonathan Rees at More or Less Bunk that there is such a thing as online Kindergarten curricula, which he (correctly, in my view) calls “child neglect:” I actually used the word [...]

21 11 2011
Teaching through a bullhorn. « More or Less Bunk

[...] That will hurt students too. In fact, let’s talk about what this kind of “coaching” means for the actual practice of teaching. Remember, Christensen is advocating scaling up education. Essentially, he wants bigger class sizes even though the students in those “classes” will be spread out all over the country and the world. How much individual attention can anybody get in a class with 100, 500 or even 35,000 students in it? Maybe some (but by no means all) college students can thrive in a sink-or-swim environment, but what about Kindergarteners? [...]

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