stephanie jones

Archive for June 15th, 2011|Daily archive page

Keep my kid off the computer…or, “Will computers replace teachers?”

In creativity, Education Policy, family-school relations, Neoliberalism and Education, Standing up for Kids on June 15, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Are computers replacing teachers already? Read this provocative article and see for yourself.

This is an education issue: the focus on memorization and high-stakes tests aligns nicely with computer-based tasks for kids; but of course most of us hate the focus on low-level “learning” and multiple choice tests that dominate schools today. I don’t want my kid tied to a computer for hours during the day – have you ever watched a kid’s positive energy level and attitude fall to below zero after spending too much time in front of the screen? For all that computer-based technology can offer us in life, it steals much away, including a focus on nature, human contact, creativity in the material world.

Recently a 1st grade teacher told me that her school’s RTI (That’s Response to Intervention) checklist of possibilities for “interventions” for struggling students included a list of 10 possibilities: the first 9 were all computer-based, and what was the 10th possibility? A human-based intervention. ALERT! If your school is naming a teaching/learning interaction as a “human-based intervention” you must know that educational aspirations are not only low, but your job is on the way out the door (and mine’s not far behind).

This is a labor issue: The more number-crunching data-seeking, statistics-acquiring folks get ahold of our education system, the more likely it will be that computers will come to the rescue with standards-based, rigid lessons aligned with tests; multiple-choice tasks to prepare children for test-taking; and repetitive “games” will lure our children into the hypnotic state of screen staring “education.” But guess what? A computer and a few games (and perhaps even the maintenance folks to take care of them…probably housed in India) are cheaper than a knowledgeable, well-educated, creative teacher who can respond individually to each student’s academic, social, and emotional needs. Get a shipment of 1,000 laptops, ipads, or smartphones into a school, set up the children on programs meant to keep them isolated, quiet, and still for hours, and hire a couple folks who don’t know a thing about teaching/learning or the content to walk through rooms filled with hunched over bodies and you’ve got yourself a really cheap way to do school.

But don’t hunch my kid over a high-tech device.

This is a health issue: I know it personally – so those of you who know me have heard this a million times, and you can even an old blog post about it. But here’s the short version – I’m still in physical therapy 2.5 years after experiencing severe pain and depression caused from neck and shoulder injuries caused from hunching over computers writing, reading, sending emails, blogging…well, you get it. For months I couldn’t carry a bag of groceries, wash dishes, or even pick up a skillet. I cried regularly and thought I would even have to find another job. I slept a lot – too much – I couldn’t bear to get out of bed some days. And when I talk to my 20-year-old undergraduates about it, they stare at me with wide eyes and share their stories of stiff fingers, cramped thumbs, numb forearms, aching shoulders, throbbing necks. Our bodies aren’t meant to be hunched over devices such as the one I’m typing on now (doing my best not to hunch, but planning to sign off for the evening very soon). We are ruining our bodies – and I don’t want my kid ruining hers before she is even finished physically growing.

So we need to do the best we can to push the hunching devices and screens (even those over-sized screens hanging in the fronts of many of our classrooms that make kids sit still and stare straight ahead), right back out of the center of education. It’s not only about the centrality of humans interacting in teaching/learning, it’s also about jobs – and thus the economy, and our health.


Listen up Reformers – Parents are looking for something completely different from what you are offering

In communities, creativity, democracy, Education Policy, family-school relations, high-stakes tests, institutions, NCLB, Standing up for Kids on June 15, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Here’s a great article by a parent in Philadelphia – ideas I completely agree with and I really hope Reformers are listening.


And here’s a little story of my own:


I pulled my daughter out of public school last year.

It was one of the most difficult decisions I have made in recent history; one I dreamt about, talked incessantly about, and did everything possible to not make the decision I ultimately made. And even though Hayden isn’t in public school right now, I continue to fight (and scream, and blog, and cry, and work) for public education.

Hayden now attends the “Freedom to Grow UNschool” (sounds lovely, huh?), and with one year under our belt, I am so relieved that I did make that decision. Her third grade year, which would have otherwise been overshadowed by the mandatory state test, was incredible. She studied a local park, researched the medieval times and questioned economic inequities reflected in housing and fashion, she planned and carried out a fashion show as a result – from start to finish, she experienced what it was like to edit the school newspaper published once a month, she studied the Mississippi floods, accelerated her understanding of foundational and analytical math, she learned about the Children’s March during the Civil Rights and connected it to civil rights issues today and what children can do to make a difference, she learned how to compost, how to track animals, identify trees, and use some basic survival skills in the wilderness. She painted and constructed and read and danced and wrote and pretended and analyzed and experimented and inquired and sang and laughed and learned the messiness of maintaining a community where everyone is valued even when everyone doesn’t agree with one another.

All in one school year.

And in a school where there is a “no homework” policy.

Her achievements in 3rd grade were remarkable – truly impressive even if I wasn’t her mother:) And I know things would have been entirely different for her and us had we left her in the school she was attending – a Title I school under the stresses of NCLB where the 3rd grade test is all that matters, teachers were required to be “on the same page”, the gifted class is focused on state standards, field trips are rare, recess almost non-existent, and homework every night. During her 2nd grade year she cried on a regular basis; begged us not to take her to school; had nightmares in her sleep; accidents in her pants (!); regularly lost her 10 minute recess for having to use the restroom at the wrong time of day; and learned that school was a place she had to go, but she never expected it to be a place of joy, curiosity, creativity, exploration, and building a foundation of lifelong learning and engaged citizenship.

What State legislators and other Educational Reformers don’t understand is that parents, like us – even the hard-nosed-public-education-is-the-backbone-of-democracy parents, are sick of the education we have been stuck with since the NCLB hammer started pounding on local schools.

We are sick of the small-thinking.

We are sick of the stress.

We are sick of the standards.

We are sick of the essential questions.

We are sick of the pre-tests, the post-tests, the practice-tests, the “real” tests, the awards for tests, the pep rallies for tests, the “how-to-parent-during-state-testing-week” newsletters, the computerized tests, the reading tests, the math tests, the “if you can write it down on a piece of paper we’re gonna test it” test.

We are sick of AYP.

We are sick of homework that brings on tears and resistance and family misery every night.

We are sick of every child being in “intervention” – constantly – to improve test scores. (Yes, every child in my daughter’s school went to “intervention” every single day…what in the hell kind of education are we creating called intervention??!!)

We want schools to belong to us and to our children and we want inspired and compassionate and intellectual teachers to lead us.

We want our teachers to be creative, and inspiring, and spontaneous, and curious – not stressed out because they’re not on the same page or lesson as the teacher next door, or that they might lose their job because the school isn’t meeting AYP, or that their evaluation and salary might be positively or negatively impacted by students’ test scores, or that their lesson plans aren’t in the right format, or that they didn’t get all their pre- and pre/pre- and post- and post/post- testing done in time. I mean with all that stress, who can respond calmly and compassionately to a child sitting in front of you? Or who can jump up and decide that third or fourth graders studying literary uses of the weather need to run outside when it’s raining to see for themselves all the different ways rain could be used in literature as symbolism? Or who has the energy to schedule guest speakers and local field trips during an intensive study of the local economy and how a community can build sustainable practices and promote more equality amongst its citizens when they have mountains of paperwork to complete and more tests to give and prepare to give? (Oh – and sustainable communities isn’t a part of the Standards, so it’s a side-project to begin with, strategically hidden from other teachers and supervisors).

We want our children to love to learn, to read, to question, to analyze, to contemplate, to sing, to perform, to draw, to play, to have friends, to feel like school is a happy and meaningful place to be.

We want our children to have recess. (Yes, we actually believe that children and adolescents need unstructured play time during the day – we prefer not to think of our pride and joy heading into a sweatshop every day).

We want our children to smile. To feel valued. To be perceived as possibility and promise – not as a potential test score.

In short – my family specifically, and lots of families across this country have suffered because of Educational Reform. And we’re sick of it – every single bit of it. Even the incredibly condescending and superficial “family engagement plans” schools now have to have parents sign and return to school each year.

Give back our teachers.

Give back our rights for a well-rounded, rich, high-quality education.

Give back our children’s childhoods.

Give back our family’s sanity.

Listen up Reformers – you are driving us mad, and driving us away. We are looking for something completely different from the menu of options you are serving.







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