Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Human Connection

One of the opportunities that writing this blog has offered me is the chance to travel all over the world, speaking before audiences of teachers and parents, sharing some of my thoughts on play, learning, and children. My hosts always as me in the weeks prior to the event if I have any special audio-visual needs. Most people on this particular speaking circuit at least use a Power Point presentation of some sort, but I don't: I work off a stack of notes, about half of which are hand written, some on the pages of a college ruled spiral notebook.

I'm not a Luddite, but I don't like relying on technology especially when I'm not convinced that it will make things better or easier. I'm not convinced that it's an improvement to have people reading the wall behind me rather than listening to what I have to say and I've never experienced the kind of technological challenges that all too often afflict my fellow presenters when one machine doesn't talk to another. I'm not saying that I'll never include technology, but rather that I'm just not yet convinced that it can improve upon the proven formula of me, my notes and my audience.

I'm in front of an audience of children and parents almost every day of my life without the support of any presentation technology more advanced than a felt board. In my world as a classroom teacher, slickness doesn't count nearly as much as connection and, for me at least, the screens, slides, and projectors would just be something that stands between them and me without adding anything important to the experience.

In the Facebook comments under one of my recent posts critical of the charter school movement in America, a father sought to defend the good intentions of education dilettantes like Bill Gates by writing that Microsoft's founder and leader of the corporate "reform" movement had given every student in his child's charter school a tablet, as if this in and of itself, is a show of commitment to high quality education. This reader is not alone in his knee-jerk faith that screen-based technology is the future of education. Indeed, it's just assumed by many that computers should stand at the center of the modern classroom. This assumption is not based upon any sort of studies or research, but rather the shrugging acceptance that computers are everywhere else, so of course they belong in the classroom. And I suppose to some extent they do, but only as yet another tool, like a pencil or paper, not as a replacement for the teacher, which is too often the case.

Besides, if anyone thinks a man like Bill Gates would give computers to a school out of the goodness of his heart, they've not been paying attention. I'm quite confident that it wasn't just tablets he gave those students, but tablets loaded with educational software, developed by companies like Microsoft who see billions in profits to be made over the coming decades. This is venture philanthropy: we get you hooked on the technology, then, forever, you become an income stream as you must regularly update both the software and hardware.

There has actually been a lot research done on the impact of computers in the classroom and contrary to popular wisdom, it has overwhelmingly found that, to date, despite having spent some $60 billion on the experiment, the educational outcomes have been negligible at best, but in many cases outright damaging to children:

Tech in the classroom not only leads to worse education outcomes for kids . . . it can also clinically hurt them . . . students who have been raised on a high-tech diet not only appear to struggle more with attention and focus, but also seem to suffer from an adolescent malaise that appears to be a direct byproduct of their digital immersion. Indeed, over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.

Writing in Time Magazine, Dr. Nicholas Karadaras, author of the new book Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids -- and How to Break the Trance, explains how education corporations like Pearson Education are impoverishing our schools by flooding them with unproven technology while raking in billions, money that would be much more wisely spent on actual teachers. It's a nasty game they're playing at the expense of our children. I urge you to click through to the article: it links to some of the research.

As Karadaras writes:

We are projecting our own infatuation with shiny technology, assuming our little digital natives would rather learn using gadgets -- while what they crave and need is human contact with flesh-and-blood educators.

Unsurprisingly, Canadian research shows that children actually prefer "ordinary, real-life lessons" to using technology:

"It is not the portrait that we expected, whereby students would embrace anything that happens on a more highly technological level. On the contrary -- they really seem to like access to human interaction, a smart person in front of the classroom." 

This is why I continue to prefer my stack of notes and my felt board. The fact that I'm not going to help make Bill Gates or Pearson Education any richer than they already are is just a side benefit. I'm not opposed to technology; I'm just in favor of best practices and the research is telling us that the best education technology we have is human connection.

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Arthur Battram said...

We should add that Steve Jobs, and other technocrats apparently, ban their children from using said devices, either altogether or on a severely restricted basis.

Unknown said...

Hi Teacher Tom!

I love your blog and agree with you in almost everything you say...I just wanted to point out that for spec ed kids with little movement or communication, the iPad and technology has been a blessing in allowing them to participate in classroom activities which previously they were only bystanders...

edblisa said...

Remember in It's a Wonderful Life, when George is pleading to the masses to keep their money in the Building & Loan during the run on the bank? Potter's not selling! Potter's buying! That's how I always see Bill Gates.

Unknown said...

Hi Teacher Tom,

I am a student teacher in Scotland and have started up a blog too! I would love you to check it out! Also you say this blog has allowed you to get a lot of opportunities? How do you generate these opportunitie

Unknown said...

Hi tom, I too am a teacher (student teacher) and have created a blog! You say you get a lot of opportunities from this blog! How do you generate these opportunities? Looking for advice? Many thanks!

Teacher Tom said...

@Abbie K . . . I just write the best thing I can every day. I've done nothing special to generate opportunities. People have always come to me.