Is latest technology best for learning?
Remember the popular movement in the late 20th century to return American public education to the basics? Those tried and true disciplines reminiscent of the one-room school house? Conservative parents and opportunistic politicians decried efforts to nurture critical thinking and creativity. They accused teachers of brainwashing children with messages of tolerance and inclusion. They pressured school boards to return to the “three R’s”: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.
The back-to-basics effort has lost much of its momentum in recent years, however. And the reason is not politics, but progress. The dizzying change we have undergone these past 20 years, the communication revolution that has affected nearly every living human being, has brought into question the relevancy of the three R’s. Or at least two of them.
At one time, courses considered basic included Latin, Greek, Rhetoric and Logic. Then life changed.
No sensible person could argue that reading is not essential to learning. It is a skill critical to understanding and functioning in the world in which we live. Writing, however, is different. Certainly, the ability to communicate with unspoken words is as critical a skill as reading, but how those words are manufactured has changed forever.
It is still important that children learn the concepts of mathematics, but how critical anymore are mastery of multiplication tables and long division when the simplest devises can calculate instantly?
Many, even most, of the readers of this newspaper can remember seeing above the blackboards in our grade-school classrooms examples of the Palmer or Peterson methods of cursive handwriting. At one time, clear and legible handwriting was essential to communication. That’s when we scribbled notes and passed them under desks to each other. Now, students text each other, and the only skill required is dextrous thumbs.
A week or so ago, Avella Area School District announced that it will provide laptop computers to all of its students in seventh through 12th grades. Homework assignments, once written with a No. 2 pencil on blue-lined notebook paper and in composition books will instead be tapped out next year on a keyboard and posted to the Cloud.
As reported in an article in Wednesday’s newspaper, Washington Superintendent Roberta DiLorenzo envisions a day when students will be able to learn in the classroom using personal e-readers and even cellphones – not the district’s equipment but their own. She said at the school board meeting Monday that the district is approaching new technology cautiously. That’s wise, because DiLorenzo pointed to programs that allow students to answer questions on smart boards using their cellphones, with teachers responding to questions in a similar manner.
Imagine a classroom in which teacher and pupils no longer look at and speak to each other but rather converse solely by manipulating their personal communication devices. How prepared will these students be for the real world and normal human interaction?
We should instill in children the knowledge they need to function in society today and tomorrow. Curriculum should change regularly to reflect those changing needs. This digital era has made it necessary for our children to become computer literate, but our schools must also teach students to think for themselves, to reason and think critically, to be able to navigate through all the information available to them on the Internet and determine what parts of it are useful and true.
We urge all our educators to consider new technology cautiously, and not to forget in their pursuit of it how important are speaking and listening – in that old-fashioned way – in our world, today and tomorrow.