Saturday, December 4, 2010

A response to a technophile

Whenever I post about the ludicrousness of using tools at inappropriately young ages, I get animated responses with similar themes. These replies are often anonymous, and often thoughtless.

I got one from my previous post that was neither anonymous nor thoughtless, and I thought it was worth carrying the discussion out in the open. Thank you, David!

Computers are the most powerful tool we have at our disposal and you want our kids to be ignorant of how they are used?

"Computers are the most powerful we have at our disposal" is dubious at best--I'd argue that the power of the tool depends on the task at hand (try hammering a nail with a mouse--yes, I'm an idiot).

But let's suppose for a moment that the computer is indeed the most powerful tool we have. Is its innate "power" your argument for why young children should be taught how to use them?

My car is the most powerful way for me to get around, but I'd rather the children keep away from the wheel until they can peer over the dashboard.

Do you think kids' parents, most of them anyway, have any clue how to use a computer as a tool?

Yes, I do, insofar as they need them for what parents do day to day, which is to say, live.

To be fair, they use computers every time they drive, use a microwave, an elevator, a video game, or EZ Pass, each a different task.

Maybe I am misunderstanding the thrust of your question. I do that a lot.

If you mean more esoteric stuff, like designing a database from scratch, well, maybe not. We got high school for that. I'd rather teach the kids how to bake from scratch--as in here's a bag of seeds, bake me a pie in 9 months, but I tend to be a bit extreme.

We do spend too much time in front of computers, this I agree with.
How do we fix this? I cannot control what happens in the child's home. What is the damage done by this? Are we contributing to the damage by reinforcing the activity in school?

However, what's the difference in health between sitting with a computer in front of you, or sitting with some paper to take notes? In either case, you are sitting instead of moving.
A great question--there's a couple of distinct points there, and I'll take each in turn:

Neither has great risks aside from physical inactivity that we know of--I suppose you could stab yourself in the eye and get paper cuts with the pencil and paper, and there have been case reports of children causing damage to their thighs from prolonged contact with hot laptops, and more than a few visits to the ER after tripping over wires, but I know those are not what you mean.

Some real longterm concerns may exist--two big ones in the past, monitor radiation and carpal tunnel syndrome, have been ameliorated. Longterm exposure to light may be a subtle issue not adequately explored, but again, I know these are not what you mean either.

There is a difference, though--a child pursuing an activity on paper has only the paper to deal with. Paper is mostly quiet unless you rustle it, and doesn't have flash or sizzle or anything else except sit there. It has, alas, no bling.

A child, when not doing her paper homework, will get up and do something else wrestled to the ground by an adult, both of which expend energy. A child on a computer wanders away, too, to online games, to FaceBook, to ESPN, to a whole shiny digital world that distracts her like a magpie.

The real crime is the number of physical education programs which are being cut and the lack of outdoor education programs in most schools.
Here in New Jersey, physical education remains mandatory. Getting kids outside is, indeed, important. There are only so many hours in a day. If we both agree that children are spending too much time on computers and not enough time outdoors, well, it doesn't take a computer to mesh out a rational solution to that.

I agree completely, by the way, with Stephen Downes 10 things that you really need to learn. I work in a school where those 10 things are our primary curriculum and our content is secondary to them.
Do send a link to your school--while I am blessed to work in a great department in a wonderful school, we still have the state curriculum and an annual end of course here to contend with.

And yes, I accept emails.

That's King Ludd in the picture--I assume it's old enough to be PD.


Sue VanHattum said...

Waldorf folks say no screen time until a child is 8 years old. They cite the need for the eye to learn to focus at different distances, and the vastly limited palette of colors on a computer as two reasons (among many more) why computers are damaging to children.

I managed to keep my son's screen time pretty limited until about a year ago. I got a desktop computer that could get Netflix instant. He still watches less than the national average, but that's not saying much.

David said...

I must have missed your point about the young ages. Students at our school spend essentially no time on a computer until grade 3, where they spend a tiny fraction of the entire year learning about them. Grade 4 and grade 5 they have some skills that they learn about through computers.

I guess I just didn't read your title very closely. 1st graders use computers? So many other useful skills for them to learn first.

Balance. In all things, balance.

The link to my school is

We run the IB program from K to 12 here, which in grades K - 10 is focused on inquiry and connections between the world and what we do in the classroom. In grade 11 and 12 this is less true, but students have many opportunities to pursue their own forms of study, which is a form of inquiry.

Anonymous said...

I believe that I have an entire group of high school students whose brains have been damaged by the 2D representation of 3D objects. As a result, they cannot comprehend a 3D object. They are all on computers, whose 2D representations allude to real objects that my students have never seen.
Computers are now used as a great pacifier for the masses - keep them busy on facebook, or tweeting about what they are eating, and they will stop thinking about the important things like why the second floor classroom is leaking again, for the fifth year in a row, while 5 miles away students have warm, dry classrooms and no daily fights in the school.
By the way, I post as anonymous because I can never get the other methods to accept me (rejection - so sad)