Thursday, October 22, 2020

Put Away the Tech, Part 4 by Scott Harris

For many Silicon Valley parents, the new “must have” is a nanny contract that requires the nanny to expose their charges to either very limited or no-technology during the day. There are even nanny-spies who will use technology to report nannies in public parks if the nanny happens to be on their phone. 

Several articles on this are behind paywalls, but here’s one that isn’t: https://www.activistpost.com/2018/11/silicon-valley-parents-spy-on-nannies-to-make-sure-they-arent-using-screens-around-their-kids-and-make-them-sign-no-screens-contracts.html

This follows the 2011 New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html) that showed how the very people that create the digital technology that we love so much – and that if our children don’t master will certainly be left behind – prevent their own children from being exposed to it. 

They prevent them from being exposed to technology not just in their homes, but in their schools! The NYT article is a must read. It explains how people who know technology better than all of us, often with degrees in computer science, find technology to be not only distracting to learning, but even unnecessary to learning. They then hire teachers who philosophically believe that humans are better at teaching math than computers.

Before we cast them (and me) off as Luddites, the Waldorf teachers cited in the article ask an interesting question: where is the empirical evidence? Where is the overwhelming evidence that all of this technology used in the delivery of instruction has delivered the massive gains? Why aren’t the tech-parents afraid that their kids will “fall behind”? Perhaps they’ve realized that technology-in-the-delivery-of-instruction-as-savior is the latest educational moral panic.

This author is old enough to remember in the early 1990s when articles were showing that Japanese schools already had kindergarteners (!) using computers. We were just phasing them into universities. How would we ever catch up?! And yet the republic endured. 

Defenders of technology-as-savior, typically public-school teachers (of which I am one) and administrators sound the same alarm: digital divide, we need more funding, iPads for everyone! But where are the empirical educational gains such technology promised to bring?

One administrator in Texas I read about in the newspapers said he wasn’t too concerned about the empirical evidence. “All I know,” he said, “is that we’re putting iPads in the hands of a child.” And so it has been spoken. Technology as talisman, a source from which all good things in education spring. 

Technology is a tool, not a savior. Use as appropriate.


Scott K. Harris teaches The Moral Sciences: A.P. Macroeconomics, A.P. Psychology, and Philosophy. He holds a B.A. in History/Psychology and a M.Ed. in Teacher Leadership. He has also taught U.S. History, World History, International Baccalaureate’s Theory of Knowledge, and coached swimming and water polo. He piloted curriculum for Stossel-in-the-Classroom and is an associate producer for izzit.org.