Stop the computers! They're bad for the kids!

NCTE’s “Inbox” had a link to this Washington Post article, “A Caution on Kids, Technology,” which is really a short piece about this, a press release from the group Alliance for Children about their report, Tech Tonic (this link is to a PDF file). To quote from the press release:

The report strongly criticizes the extensive financial and political connections between education officials and school technology vendors. It urges citizens to wake up to the increasing influence of corporations in policymaking for public education.

“The lack of evidence or an expert consensus that computers will improve student achievement—despite years of efforts by high-tech companies and government agencies to demonstrate otherwise—is itself compelling evidence of the need for change,� Tech Tonic states. “It’s time to scrap…national, state, and local policies that require all students and all teachers to use computers in every grade, and that eliminate even the possibility of alternatives.�

At the same time, the Alliance suggests, high-tech childhood is making children sick—promoting a sedentary life at a time when childhood obesity is at epidemic levels.

I haven’t read the report, and I probably won’t anytime soon since it’s about 125 pages long and I’m looking at a stack of papers, a stack of readings, and a stack of scholarly projects right now, but I do have a couple of thoughts about all this:

* How come none of these folks who are critical of technology in the classrooms– these people, Todd Oppenheimer, etc.– seem to completely ignore the scholarship from folks in fields like mine? I mean, Cindy Selfe’s keynote address/article/book on “the importance of paying attention” has become something of a mantra to people in the computers and writing community, and rightly so. We have “woken up,” so to speak. It’s clear to me that the current “conventional” wisdom in the field is that we have to make thoughtful connections between pedagogy and technology and we can’t just dump a bunch of computers into a classroom and expect them to work. Why aren’t groups like this one aware of this scholarship? Or why is it that they just seem to ignore it?

* Part of what I think the Alliance for Childhood is advocating is a romantic return to a more pure and “technology free” past. Besides the fact that technology of one sort or another has been in classrooms for a long time, it’s also impossible to deny that children and the rest of us in this country live in a high tech and heavily mediated culture. To just ignore this stuff in classrooms isn’t going to make it go away in the rest of childrens’ lives. I would prefer that we account for the technological realities of children’s lives and talk about technologies like computers and such.

* I don’t have time to read this report, but I’d be curious about the definition of “children” here. If by “child,” they mean elementary school aged children, I think they have a bit of a point. I volunteered last year in his first grade classroom, and one of the things I did was work with the kids on the six computers in the room. We did little things– going to some sites where kids read little stories and clicked on things, typing their names or sentences in a word processor. Mostly, it was kind of a “fun time” activity for the kids, and while it did give them some useful “literacy” skills, I frankly thought the kids’ time was better spent doing more traditional reading, writing, and ‘ritmatic sorts of activities.

At the same time, I think there are benefits for kids at this age engaging with computer and media technologies. My son– who, believe me, is quite physically active– has been playing around with computers and video games since he was 3, and I really think he’s actually learned a lot from this kind of electronic “play.” Ultimately, I think it will benefit him as he gets older because the technology won’t be foreign or frightening to him.

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