Monday, July 16, 2012

Starving for technology

Just because you're going forwards
Doesn't mean I'm going backwards.
Billy Bragg, "To Have and To Have Not"

We keep pushing new technologies, harder than we push for full bellies and safe homes for our children.

An hour or two bouncing around various social sites shows where our priorities lie. We're more likely to survey our students to learn what "devices" they have at home than to learn what they have eaten the past 24 hours.

It's not a fair dichotomy, true, but I bet a "Luddite" teacher who knows the home situation of each and every one of her students gets better results than a Google Certified Teacher, everything else being equal.

And yes, of course, we can have both, and often do--but you wouldn't know it from the electronic conversations. Of the two, though, only one is necessary.

The original Luddites were skilled craftsfolk who objected to the industrialization of what once was a decent way of life. They used tools themselves. They fought their impending loss of autonomy. And now the term "Luddite" carries with it derision.

I can do things with a blackboard I simply cannot do with a SMART Board. The SMART Board can do plenty of things a blackboard cannot. I am not convinced we gained more than we lost, at least for science classes, where drawing matters, especially for a left-handed teacher who loves to use dotted fields. (Our computers cannot handle a staccato of dots, though it is amusing to see the dots fill in a field like stars filling a dusk sky--and about as fast.)

But this is not about whether the SMART Boards should replace blackboards--this is about how we decide which technologies to use. No one asked me if I wanted a SMART Board, and just bringing up a discussion like this brings out deep feelings among the pro-tech crowd.

Read the history of Luddites. Learn why they did what they did.

We're in the process of spending billions of dollars on testing and test prep as our House of Representatives works to cut $16 billion from our Federal food assistance programs.

Here's an idea--ask teachers to fast for a day for every new tool they use in class that costs more than, say, $200. Oh, wait, that would be ridiculous!

We'll ask a few kids to fast instead.

Socrates taught well with a stick and some sand.
And I bet he didn't use UbD, either....


John T. Spencer said...

Back in the day, we used to watch cartoons where people in the future would eat tiny vitamins for their food. It seemed crazy, because humans like to eat. Artificial and instant made sense, but less? No way.

They also worked five hour work weeks. Yet, that's not how it works. If technology can replace low-skilled jobs and turn high-skilled jobs into low-skilled ones, then it seems natural that the demand for workers would go down and the supply would remain high.

So, instead of fewer hours, it seems like tech would create a scarcity of jobs and unemployment would rise while companies could demand higher hours and lower wages from workers.

I might be missing something here. I took a ton of economics classes and they also promised globalization would add "creative jobs" that would off-set tech-sourcing and out-sourcing. I'm not an economist or a mathematician, so there might be some flaws in my thinking here.

Jenny said...

We had a "State of the Profession" discussion at the writing project today. We all shared our greatest challenges or concerns about teaching at the moment.

My first was that, as a society, we don't take care of children. My students don't have safe places to live and play, a steady source of healthy food, and a whole host of other things that matter to their growth and development.

My second was that we don't ask why enough. We continue to do things or teach things because that's how they've always been done. That's not a good enough reason.

I firmly believe you have helped me to recognize these challenges.

doyle said...

Dear John,

We're so confused we no longer know what we like.

Demand for labor going down secondary to improved efficiency is fine if the gains are shared proportionately. They're not.

The "creative jobs" myth has caused a great deal of pain in this country. You know what? Many of the execs who believed in the myth are doing just fine. The other big myth is that we can educate our way out of this mess.

Whenever we get to those Guinnesses, we'll solve these problems.

Dear Jenny,

I learned long ago that we don;t take care of or children--working for years on a van in the inner city removed any lingering doubts.

Your last line may be the most gratifying comment I've ever had here. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

John, maybe you should stick to education instead of economics. Your argument holds no logical ground. Technology increases capacity for goods. Industrialization made things cheaper. So, yes, we may have fewer workers initially, but we have more goods and therefore more jobs. Most families have huge homes and two cars. That wasn't possible when there was one income. Maybe the real issue is that we are trying to buy too much. Maybe the real issue is that we now feel the need to have two income earners in a household. Either way, it is a social rather than technological problem.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

Ad hominem attacks hardly count as logic, so no points for your opening. As I dissect your argument, readers can judge for themselves who is the confused one.

You first concede John's point ("yes, we may have fewer workers initially"), though I'm not clear why since you rejected John's argument.

You follow this with "but we have more goods and therefore more jobs," implying (unless I misunderstood) that goods produce jobs. And they don't.

The demand for goods may impel folks to seek further employment, but that does not in itself create more jobs.

"Most families" do not have "huge homes and two cars"--though many here in the States who live in the upscale suburbs believe this.

But supposing for the sake of argument this were true--how does "trying to buy too much" cause unemployment?

You may have meant to say that the number of job-seekers has increased faster than new jobs created because a higher percentage of us are seeking jobs to support our consumption habits, and that could be an interesting discussion.

I don't disagree that this is a social problem--oligarchies can be hard on employment rates.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

Perhaps plutocracy is more accurate than oligarchy--it gets difficult when power and money are so entwined you cannot tell one from the other.

This is less a social problem than a distribution problem.

Anonymous said...

different anonymous (I'm the one that it won't accept my "google")
In Europe they reduced the standard work week from 40 hours down to 35 or 30 hours a week, so people can still have jobs. 4 or 6 weeks vacation a year - increasing the shares for everyone.
We still have to remember that using technology just changes what we do to fill in our time. The fundamental things we need (food, sewage, clean water, warmth) have nothing to do with the little electronic boxes that people carry around, and have even been relegated to lower level activities in our society.
And those connections, the people, the groups, are why the "virtual schools" don't work. If the little box were really enough, nobody would ever have to go anywhere.

Linda said...

This sounds like you think teachers are more concerned about gadgets than students. Personally, I love having my Smartboard it I didn't ask for it. I know exactly where my students are coming from because I take a drive each year to see for myself where their homes are. The majority are living below poverty level with a single parent or grandparents. I personally keep cereal bars and other snacks in my room for students that didn't have breakfast. Ecause there was nothing at home. I have also bought shoes, clothes, and other essentials for students that were in need. It breaks my heart to see these kids in such a situation and so many times those responsible for them at home are doing the best they can. These are MY kids long after they leave my room. I agree that more needs to be done. I know that I am doing all that I can emotionally, physically, and financially.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous 2,

Ah, you're clearly a different anonymous. =)

We could have that here. Oh, wait, I remember--that makes me a pinko. My bad.

Dear Linda,

Some teachers, alas, are more concerned about gadgets. I did point out that many teachers involved with the gadgets are also involved with their students.

Whether you love your SMART Board was not the point--it's our lack of participation in the discussion for a very expensive item of questionable pedagogic usefulness that bothers me.

I know you bleed for your kids. Many of us do. It's why I cringe when I see us spending literally billions of dollars for testing as we cut billions of dollars for food.

Self Replicate said...

I don't have a smartboard, is it true that it's difficult for lefties because of the scanning field?

Great summation with the 'testing vs food', btw.

doyle said...

Dear Self Replicate,

Yes, it's true--our hand/arm blocks the light from the projector as we write from left to right.

I can write backwards, but makes it difficult for students to read (unless they use a mirror).

Thanks for dropping by!

Kathryn J said...

I had a smart board for a few months at the end of my first year of teaching - not impressed. I would rather have lab equipment - probeware specifically - that the students could use for investigations. I am sure they won't ask my opinion.

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

I wasn't much impressed either, was told maybe I didn;t get its full value, so I went to classes, played with it for a summer on my laptop, then tried again.

Still not much of a fan.

I don't say that too loudly anymore--it's achieved sacred status in the ed world.

Grade 4/5 Class at Major Ballachey said...

I think reliance on any single tool is a mistake, be it blackboard, smartboard, ipad, whatever. I teach at a compensatory school and we constantly deal with kids coming to school hungry. Of course, these are the very children who need exposure to technology because they don't get it at home, so the either/or is a false dichotomy. The real answer is differential funding. To fund the education of a well-off student at the same level as a poor student is crazy. Let's start assigning funding based on need.

Grade 4/5 Class at Major Ballachey said...

Oh, and Billy Bragg is very, very good :)

doyle said...

Dear Grade 4/5,

Your rational and thoughtful response is appreciated--and I'd agree with it--except that in many schools (mine included) the SMART Board replaces the white board which replaced the blackboard, each one more expensive to maintain than the prior, with little, if any, net gain.

We're more subject to laws of marketing than we are to thoughtful pedagogy.

Here in Jersey, we do, in fact, have some differential funding, but (seemingly) with the expectation that we'll get equivalent results.

And yes, Billy Bragg is wonderful. =)