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Tech and young kids

April 6, 2018
Shepherdstown Chronicle

Thanks to the organizers at the Shepherdstown Community Club, on March 17 I had the chance to be in the same room as eight candidates for the Jefferson County Board of Education. Along with hearing long lists of credentials, I heard inspiring visions from some (increasing teacher morale, schools as centers of community) as well as sobering facts from others (lack of funding for school counselors, nurses and social workers).

Though I'm generally befuddled at why our local conversation and national agenda haven't moved more toward equitable educational opportunities for all American citizens, regardless of whether the student lives in Massachusetts or West Virginia, I want to focus for now on the candidates' conversation as it turned toward technology. As I perceived a general enthusiasm for incorporating more technology into the school curriculum, I feel a need to advocate for the slowing down of this fast-moving train.

Maybe we do owe it to our high school students to expose them to aspects of computer technology, software development and data analysis that could help inform future livelihood decisions, but let's not shortchange other, more traditional occupational possibilities in doing so. I am also confused as to why we're talking about teaching coding skills when many graduating seniors don't even come away with basic math skills. Ironically, dependency on calculators has robbed many of their confidence to even reason their way back to the multiplication facts. I'm afraid that punching buttons and learning tricks to only figure out the "how" to get an answer has taken us a long way from the development of critical thinking skills that require the asking of "why."

But my overriding concern stems from hearing one well-intentioned candidate promote taking technology "all the way down to kindergarten." While I was aghast, I was not totally surprised. After all, computer technology has been a driving force of our national economy at least since the internet arrived in the '90s, and I'm guessing the emphasis on technology in education since then has been largely due to successful campaigns convincing powers-that-be to adopt or be left behind. But when did elementary and even middle school education become part of an economic arms race? Arms races are based on fear, not love.

Now, I'm relatively sure this particular candidate wasn't envisioning fiercely competitive five-year-olds hammering away at computer keyboards so as to squelch some fear of future outsourcing. Maybe the vision had them responding to relatively benign instructional programs geared toward teaching reading or arithmetic skills. Maybe this particular candidate was even just advocating for something I'd be in favor of, the teaching of media literacy as a consumer protection. I just don't know.

The fact is, whenever I hear the coupling of "children" and "computer" in the same sentence, I cringe.

I like to think of a child as a wildflower perfectly beautiful in a balanced and healthy ecosystem. When the civilizing effects of schooling are called for, I believe it should be a gentle process, like cultivation in an organic garden. Let's face it children are the only human forms we downtrodden adults have to remind us of anything coming close to a pure state. Why would we want to mess with that by juxtaposing them with cold machinery, especially when screen time has probably already increased over the years at home? It's like bypassing an organic garden and going straight to industrial agriculture.

With wildlife habitat and outdoor time on the decline, most of us rarely even get a glimpse of what untainted life forms look like. Let's allow our children to be our wildflowers for as long as possible. Let them run around outside and feel the sun on their skin and explore their natural world before they are supplied with an arsenal of tools for defeating the competition. Let them at least experience the warm embrace of a loving community of living beings (aka well-paid teachers) before they get exposed more to the cold world of machines. I believe their future depends on this kind of balance. Very likely, the future of humanity depends on this kind of balance.

In case national headlines were overlooked last year and even years before, allow me to remind readers that even Silicon Valley tech executives have been sending their children to tech-free schools. If we're so eager to adopt these moguls' products, maybe we should also be interested in their rationale for school choice. Hopefully, we'll at least pause long enough to consider the trajectory we're on.

Sincerely,

Michelle Wheeler

 
 
 

 

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