Saturday, May 07, 2011

ameliorate or exacerbate?

Unplugged Schools--Education can ameliorate, or exacerbate, society's ills. Which will it be?. This is a great article suggested by reader Cindy, exploring the role of technology in schools and suggesting that schools become purposefully "unplugged." There is a huge chorus orchestrated by industry proposing that we turn over all of schooling to the wonders of technology... that there is nothing that can't be taught more efficiently or at less cost by computer gaming. This article presents an alternative view:
It is possible that a school system wholly devoted to developing technical skills would not be particularly damaging if other institutions compensated for children’s severely mediated lives. Unfortunately, the institutions that could serve that function—church, family, community—have been diminished by technology’s cultural dominance. School is about the only institution left that has the extensive claim on children’s attention needed to offset that dominance.

THE HEALTH OF OUR CHILDREN’S INNER LIVES, their civic engagement, and their relationship with nature all would be improved if schools turned down the thermostat on that technologically overheated aspect of American culture. Schools dedicated to that task—we might call them “unplugged schools”—would identify the values associated with technological culture and design curricula and an environment focused on strengthening the human values at the other end of the scale.

The most obvious thing schools can do in this regard is give children experiences with the real things toward which symbols are only dim pointers. Unless emotionally connected to some direct experience with the world, symbols reach kids as merely arbitrary bits of data. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but to a second grader who has held a squiggly nightcrawler in her hand, even the printed symbol “worm” resonates with far deeper meaning than a thousand pictures or a dozen Discovery Channel videos.
As so many schools are rushing toward becoming completely dominated by the current technology, Clear Spring School students spent the last two days camping, grades 1 through 8. Some high school students went along as camping assistants. Getting immersed in nature is a strong antidote for the dubious wonders of technology. But read the whole article. It is illuminating. If our schools don't offer what our children need, we have to take matters into our own hands.
Make, fix and create.

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