21 November 2010

Slow Down, You Crazy Child

Doyle and I flirted with the idea of putting in a proposal for Educon on the "Slow Teaching Movement." I won't attempt to speak for Dr. D., but for me, the idea was generated from a post last spring when I had more or less had it with the Tech Zealot constituency. For those of you who read Doyle's blog, you know that he is focused on experience---his own observations and interactions with the world as well as the ones he wants for students. The Tech Zealot community---many of whom flock to Educon---is not. On one hand, it would seem important to remind them that it is okay for kids to do offline things. We should encourage student explorations that involve every sense, from the way a book feels in your hands when you read it to how planting and tending a garden is not the same as a simulation. Experiencing an exhibit at a museum is far different from seeing/hearing it on a flat screen. We should really think about slowing down what happens in the classroom and give students the time they need to immerse themselves in learning one piece at a time. Maybe it's time to push back a bit on the digital revolution and put tech in its proper place---as a tool, not a goal.

I've come to realize in the last few months that the Tech Zealots have a viewpoint so entrenched that they are unable to hear anything but their own whiny echo. Therefore, there's no point in spending my time and money on Educon. There are plenty Champions-of-the-Things to deal with in my own back yard.

I was thinking about all of this again this morning after reading the NYT piece on Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction. The article illustrates how some students are "caught between two worlds...one that is virtual and one that with real-life demands." The student who is the main subject of the article observes that after getting a computer and Internet access, he "realized there were choices. Homework wasn’t the only option.” Hilarity ensues as technology is portrayed as a necessary evil. Parents are unwilling to encroach too much on how their children use it ("If you’re not on top of technology, you’re not going to be on top of the world."), educators want to tame it for the classroom, and kids are learning to negotiate how much GPA to sacrifice in order to gain time on Facebook.

I have not read the research referenced in the article---I can't comment on its rigor. It seems to be in line with similar research I've seen. The comments are familiar, too...although I wonder if families living in poverty would say the same things. But, I do have a couple of takeaways.

First, parents need to realize that they are the adults in the parent-child relationship. If your child is staying on the computer until the wee hours and updating their Facebook status at 2 a.m., then move the computer to a family area and insist on boundaries regarding its use. Help kids learn how to manage their attention and budget their time, if they are struggling to do so. It is your task to guide their choices. Don't use the presence of a cell phone or iPad to excuse yourself from that.

The bigger message for me is about the classroom, because educators can be enablers, too. For much of my career, I had conversations with kids about "doing the difficult thing." Sometimes it was not dropping an advanced class. Sometimes it was completing a project...or trying out for a spot on a sports team. The point was to help a student understand the power of not giving up. Maybe you don't always finish the way you dream it will be---but you live through it and learn something about yourself in the process. I wonder if our fervor to embrace the newer and faster, that we are forgetting the benefits of wallowing in experience. How do we slow things down in the classroom so that students can "soak" in the learning and put technology in a supporting role?


Brunsell said...

Well said. - especially the part about the parent being the adult in the relationship.

I understand that "kids" spend a lot of time online (or communicating with devices), but how new is that? I remember my first SERIOUS girlfriend...we talked for hours on the phone.

Kids haven't been doing homework (or grumbling about it) for as long as teachers have assigned homework. Has tech really changed that? Is it really critical that every child reads Vonnegut or Shakespeare? I never read Cat's Cradle and really can't say that I am any better for reading Shakespeare in 10th grade.

I read a lot of the classics in HS English. 20 years later, I remember 2 things about them. 1) I read them. 2) The movie adaptation of Great Expectations has brief nudity. However, I was able to take an elective English class as a Senior -- Mystery & Fantasy. I do remember the "rules" of a good mystery and put them to use when I read fiction or watch TV. I often judge the quality of a TV show on how well it followed the rules...

OK, it is late and I am rambling -- I just don't buy into the "world is ending" claims made by articles like this.

doyle said...

"First, parents need to realize that they are the adults in the parent-child relationship."


We get the world we deserve. Since current culture favors human cleverness over grace, we are in trouble, bigger trouble than most folks realize.

(I missed "the world is ending" part of your article--I may lack the critical reading skills of your more astute readers.)

Thanks for the mention--EduCon would have been fun. Maybe we can get together at the Third Luddite Convention if it ever happens.