Saturday, January 8, 2011

Should I Stager should I go?

Dr. Gary S. Stager is one of the good guys. He works and thinks hard, has no trouble crashing through conventions, and he has spent his life helping teachers focus on how learning works, infusing technology into the bigger questions of how learning happens.

He's also a Jets fan, so he's got that going for him.

He recently posted quick thoughts on screen time in the classroom, asked by the ISTE "to participate in a Point/Counterpoint faux debate."

I thought maybe his response was tongue-in-cheek, he assured me it was not.

Here was my response. His words are italicized.

Dear Gary,

At the risk of falling into a Swiftian rabbit hole, I’ll bite. I am a parent, a science teacher, and a retired pediatrician.

It is wrong to be capriciously mean to children.

If you care to have a constructive discussion, you’d do better than to assume off the bat that those of us who minimize “screen time” do so to be “capriciously mean.” If an adult believes (and has evidence) that a particular practice may be harmful, well, a responsible adult would limit the harm. I would not allow a two year old to drink whiskey, nor an eight year old drive a car, even if I do risk escalating inter-generational tension.

Children only do things for long periods of time that they find interesting.

Another strawman–I’ll counter with a lazy jab. Children breathe, pretty much all the time, whether or not they’re interested.

More to the point, just because an activity can hold a child’s interest doesn’t make it useful or safe. More than a few of us could have completely blown away our later childhood doing really dumb things that kept our interest.

If your point is that children find screens interesting, well, um, yeah–that’s why we’re discussing whether screen time should be monitored.

Educators have (limited) jurisdiction over classrooms and playgrounds, not living rooms.

Yep, no argument here. I can only control what I can control–but if it’s harmful, then it should be limited. We can debate whether it’s harmful, or whether it cuts into activities that matter more in school.

I disagree vehemently that computers should be used for science experiments, unless you want to compare the acceleration of an iPod against, say, a Dell PC in a vacuum in a 100 meter fall. Simulated experiments kill inquiry, and should go the way of filmstrips and ink wells.

I do agree that we need to frame our discussions more coherently–”screen time” is so nebulous it’s near useless. I would also suggest that we tone down the hyperbole. “Bankruptcy of imaginations”? Really?

I suspect you have other articles where you appeal to the cortex instead of the amygdala, and I’d be glad to read some of them if you’d be kind enough to point the way. You have a wonderful reputation in the edu-sphere. Don’t fritter it away.

His response:
I’m a fan of tactile messy science experiences. I don’t believe I made any statement that chooses computers over real stuff. I want kids to have access to the widest deepest range of experiences possible. Nothing in the article I completely stand behind, or in my 29 years of work, suggest otherwise.

His words surprised me.

Geez, Dr. Stager, I know you're busy, I know you have almost 3 decades of heft behind you, I get that you're hoi oligoi, but if you're going to respond at all to hoi polloi, talk to us.

Some of us who love children, have a modicum of maturity, and experience with "screen time" have concerns. The cult of personality thrives in the edutech world. Quite a few folks make a decent living rousing the crowds, spreading the edutech gospel.

Most of us in the classrooms, however, are working hard every day to open the world to a generation of children living inside their glass screens. Most of us are willing to change our ways to make the world more interesting, to help our children lead happy and productive lives.

I know you do, too.

Dr. Gary S. Stager's original post is on Stager-To-Go.

Cartoon by Robin Hutton, used under CC. some rights reserved.

And, oh, one more thing--I use 1:1 computing, and encourage all kinds of screens in class.
Not so good at it, yet, but getting better.


The Science Goddess said...

I figured out quite awhile ago that Stager hates teachers. And he sure as hell can't walk his talk---You won't see ever him in a public school classroom making a daily effort with kids. You're only feeding his attention-seeking behaviors here.

doyle said...

Dear Science Goddess,

I may delete this one soon--life's too short for worrying about what someone posts on a blog.

Still, he seems to have quite an audience, and he holds some constructive views. I am hoping for some kind of conversation. I keep hoping the folks perceived as influential turn off the bullhorns long enough to share subtle points.

Maybe I should stick to crocuses and clams....

Jenny said...

First of all, I love the title of this post.

I spent quite a bit of time with Gary at CMK this summer and I have a ton of respect for him. I do think it would be useful if he could tone things down a bit, but I don't think he is capable of it. He is truly passionate about kids, education, and technology - I think, in that order.

And so, here I have to disagree with Science Goddess (as rare as that may be), I think he hates the current system, not the teachers. It's possible that sentiment gets muddied frequently, unfortunately.

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts--it helps explain away some of my confusion. I am considering attending the CMK next summer, but the rhetoric on his post gives me pause.

I don't mind a little bit of showboating--I'm probably more guilty than most bloggers--but the tone of his post and his generalizations do little to advance thought.

I trust your judgment--judging by his words I have read, I'm not sure what order he puts things in, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt until I learn more. Demeaning those who question limits to screen time as having an "immature understanding" reflects more on him than those he opposes.

At any rate, once the crocuses come, I'll be less focused on humans and more on what matters.

(Thanks for noticing the title--it was my favorite part of the post!)

Tom Hoffman said...

I guess this would be a bad time to bring up the work I've been doing on the side for the California Milk Processor Board.

doyle said...

Dear Tom,

Save it for May. Two days ago I had some bone shaved from one place and put in another, so I may be even crankier than usual for this time of year, though Leslie will tell you that that's impossible.

Had I not had the (minor) surgery, I'd not have had the time to poke around Stager's site. (Sean Nash prompted me to look--if you don't know him, he's a good one to read.)

I really need to get outside....