stephanie jones

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.

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