Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"They Could Be Building With Blocks"

The younger children might come to school for the toys, the songs, or Teacher Tom, but by the time they're approaching four, the thing to which they're most looking forward is one another. We tend have a minimal agenda as it is, but this is why the decks are left especially clear for the first hour of our time together. The kids need that opportunity to greet one another, to lay hands on one another, to giggle over their burgeoning love for one another. Certainly, there are times when this or that child will want to be off on her own for a time, and there are always a few who are more inclined to solo play, but most of the kids, most of the time, need the other children in order to be at their best.

I don't think this inclination goes away as we get older. Meaningful human contact, be it with friends, colleagues, or teachers, is essential to mental and intellectual well-being. This goes for introverts and extroverts alike, albeit the "doses" may vary. We have evolved as social animals, we're at our best when we're social, we learn more, and more deeply within the context of community. We solve problems more creatively when we work together. Indeed, from where I sit, that is the primary reason we go to school: to be together in a place where children form their own community around shared interests and goals. Everything else that education is, will emerge from that.

Last week, 100 students in Brooklyn walked out in protest over their school's adoption of an online curriculum called "Summit Learning" designed by Facebook engineers and funded by CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Their main complaint being that they hated staring at their computer screens all day. "The whole day, all we do is sit there."

Screen-based "education" is a nightmare for children, especially young ones who don't have the opportunity to walkout. The developers' of these programs promise of "personalized learning" might sound good because, indeed, children learn different things according to different timelines, but the rush to shove screens in front of more and more children threatens to undermine the very thing that makes schools educational.

Says teacher Mark France speaking about a similar screen-based curriculum called AltSchool, "The vision was a curriculum that catered to every child so they're learning at their level all the time. But when every child is working on something different, you're taking away the most human component in the learning process, which is social interaction -- learning from one another and collaborating to solve problems. They're developing a relationship with their tablet but not one another."

Screen-based "education" erodes community. Humans have evolved to learn from one another, together, as a collaborative process. Not only that, but even by the narrow measures used by these purveyors of online "education" to demonstrate success (e.g., standardized tests), online learning has shown, at best, minimal improvement over methods that focus on human interaction, and in many cases, the results have been worse. No one with any meaningful background in education would be surprised by this and to make guinea kids of our children so that education dilettantes can test our their theories is deeply immoral, not to mention damaging. Good on those high schoolers for walking out, and good on their school for canceling the program.

As for France, who has since left AltSchool to teach in a school that places its emphasis on human interaction:

. . . the turning point came one morning when he looked around a kindergarten classroom, "and the kids were staring at their tablets, engrossed by them. And I'm thinking to myself, "They could be building with blocks, they could be doing a number of different things that are more meaningful that also build social and emotional skills but they're choosing not to. Why? Because the tool is so addictive, that's wall they want to do."

There is a reason that technology workers are increasingly restricting screen time for their children and choosing schools for them that eschew screen-based technology. There is a reason that doctors and researchers are recommending dramatically curtailing the use of screen-based technology for children. Yet the technologists, these corporate "reformers" who would impose their experiments on our children are undaunted. There is money to be made, so damn the children. Thank you Brooklyn high schoolers for standing up to them. Your walk out is for all of us.

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