Is technology elementary?
Here’s where I am now: Worried about the creeping influence and the great crashing wave of dependence on technology in our classrooms, our homes and workplaces.
I know it is commonly accepted today that knowledge is forever changing and growing. Do children need rapidly changing and up to the minute data for their elementary school science curriculum? Just how much has the life cycle of the monarch butterfly or the agricultural practices of early California Indians changed in the last year, or even the last ten?
It used to be considered acceptable [back in the day, sonny] for a fifth grade report to look up a topic in the encylopedia, find one or two additional sources in the school library, and write a paper based on what you read there. Today a fifth grader could easily find five hundred sources in a one second Google search. How do we teach our children how much research is enough? I know I can waste an extraordinary amount of time following links online to websites only tangentially related to the topic I was originally researching. How will children manage the information overload? Will they recognize it as overload?
It’s a lot of work to sort out the reliable sources from the misleading. I think that is probably a great project for high school students to learn that process. But how much information do fifth graders need for research papers? How much information can they absorb or manage? On the internet, you can find more research into the nutritive properties of green beans or the human bone structure or the assassination of Abraham Lincoln than most of us will ever need or want to know. Beyond the concerns about wildly inappropriate subject matter appearing on the internet, just how much does a fifth grader need to know about any one subject? How much can they learn to organize and present in a coherent manner?
This all started because I was distressed that in some places, children are being taught keyboarding before they've even mastered cursive writing. One of the reasons that has been given to me by several people is that for some children, it is much easier to type than to write longhand and a typewritten page looks neater and is faster to produce. How perfect does third grade work need to look?
It used to be acceptable in most correspondence to have a correction visible on a written or even a typed page. Now at home and at work we just print a whole new page rather than have a word crossed out or erased or even whited out and typed over.
What standards of perfection are we setting for ourselves and our children? Do we have to hide all our mistakes? Is it still acceptable for ordinary people [nevermind politicians] to admit a mistake, correct it and move on? Or do we feel we have to cover over any slight imperfections? How do we practice forgiving other people’s obvious imperfections?
How many revisions are necessary to a third grade book or science report? There will always be more information we could add and ideas that come to us after a paper is written. How long should eight year olds spend on a single project? How can teachers decide where to draw the line?
Another parent tried to explain to me that if they start using computers at a younger age, our children will be more intuitive about computers and programs. I don’t care if my children become intuitive about computers – they’re just another machine. It is much more important to me that my children practice being intuitive about other people. It is much more important to me that my children learn from experience – from touching dirt and seeds, from stacking and counting coins, from blowing horns – than from videos on agriculture or computer math games or recordings of music.
There is a place for technology in education. There are adaptive technologies that make it possible for students to aquire knowledge or express themselves that would otherwise be impossible or just impossibly frustrating. There are ways of bringing broader horizons into the classroom. We need to remember that these are just tools, not a replacement for engaged and energetic teachers.
I think the world needs artists and bakers and writers and counselors and pastors and doctors and teachers who may not be great keyboarders but who are much more interested and knowledgeable about the physical and emotional properties of the people or materials that are in front of them.
How does being a Quaker affect my opinions about this? I don’t think that Quaker equals anti-technology. Heck, I’m writing a Quaker weblog. (Although some Friends do see this as antithetical to their spiritual life.)
My Quaker faith helps me to ask what is at the center of the curriculum? How do we nurture that of God, all that we are, mind, body and spirit, in each child? What are the tools that help and what are distractions from the development of the whole child? Being a Quaker helps me to take the time to reflect on the technology I use. It helps me to remember that more expensive is not necessarily better. It has taught me the technique of developing queries regarding our use of technology. For example:
Is my life so filled with the Spirit that I am free from the misuse of computers, television, phones, automobiles and other forms of media and technology?
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