Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saying Yes and No to Technology

For me the question – should we have technology in schools? – is an unconditional yes.  We have, at our fingertips, the capacity to personalize, differentiate, support in “just-in-time” ways; to collect, organize and share the information we need exactly when we need it; to spark and sustain curiosity by bringing into the classroom the capacity to follow any question to the greatest depths known to man.

People ask continually – But what about slow, deep, contemplative thought?  What about exercise and just “going outside” to play?  What about community and teamwork?

First, I can think of at least ten ways I could use technology in service of all those goals in a classroom, even the “going outside” part.  Here’s one:  research the effect of nature on the brain – we all need to know why we should do what someone else tells us is “good for us” – and then use a tracking program like to do an experiment to see if the classroom community experiences a difference in learning by spending more time outside.

But more important, we can say no.  Right now we’ll use a pen, a book, our physical senses, conversation only, a silent space.  Just because we have technology doesn’t mean that it must be constantly on or used endlessly.

It is similar, I think, to the grave fears over the last decades about television.  Is TV good or bad?  Does TV harm us? TV is a mode of entertainment.  The only thing new is that it is instant and in our homes.  Parents can limit TV for children; we can limit it for ourselves.  And we ought to.  The overuse of media by children is the decision of adults who struggle to say no to their own desire for peace, quiet, ease (or, because we do not yet have effective, affordable child care, they cannot supervise their children. As a society, we have decided that other things are more important.)

If only it weren’t so hard! Previously, we did not have to set internal limits to our entertainment.  They were limited by access – the carnival passing through the village, for example.  Now, entertainment is in our pocket.  We have to learn how to say no.  And this “no” extends, among other newly abundant and easy things: buying what we can’t afford in a credit-easy world, abusing our bodies through excess food and sloth in a world of fast food and remote controls, and destroying our planet when pre-packaged and throw away are everywhere, instant, and so very very easy.

Our children will live in - have always lived in - an instant world – one where they can make a decision to publically shame and humiliate someone they don’t understand; where they can access pornography and violence with a click; where they are continually inundated with requests to purchase the next best thing.  It is also a world where they can instantly connect with the knowledge of the world and our global neighbours, where they can have a say on important issues and become active citizens.

We do not serve them by putting them in technology-free schools.  We serve them by teaching them (I’m not really sure how, but probably through modelling, through strategies, through positive experiences, through actively engaging them in conversations about decision-making and providing a framework of values against which to make those decisions) to find ways to say NO to excesses that harm us and hurt our neighbours and to say YES to the power, at their fingertips, to do good.

I hope they are better at it than we are.  Our future depends upon it.

Yes - From erix!'s photostream
No - From Mr Jaded's photostream

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