Sunday, October 7, 2012

Psst! What's The Latest On TMZ?

In the latter part of my teaching career, I had the feeling that those in charge of education, especially on the local level, were suffering from a kind of drift that was largely absent when I started my career. More and more, administrators were embracing technology, and the next 'big thing' that it promised on a regular basis, as the solution to student underachievement.

The process started off mildly enough, with the introduction of video (reel-to-reel was actually the first format used in the classroom) as a supplement to instruction, but by the time I had retired, whiteboards, school wi-fi networks, etc. were starting to gain currency. As my last administrator said, we have to hold their interest with new technology, a statement I took as sad evidence of pedogogical bankruptcy.

All the while, I was dubious of each new marvel; any reservations I openly expressed were readily dismissed, the assumption being that I was some kind of Luddite naturally resistant to change. And of course, for those who harboured notions of advancement, objecting to any new 'paradigm' would have been tantamount to career suicide, the institution of education quite Machiavellian in imposing its own brand of control on critical thinking.

It was therefore with some satisfaction that I read a piece in today's Star entitled Let’s unplug the digital classroom. Written by Doug Mann, professor in the sociology department and in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, it argues that the ubiquity of digital technology in educational settings is not an unalloyed good, and suggests what some would regard as drastic measures in an effort to curb the distractions students fall prey to whilst in the thrall of that technology.

Cross-posted at Education and Its Discontents.


  1. Computers are introduced far too early and undermine physical and social activities. Reading skills are retarded not developed.

    I meet teachers who belittle reading themselves and treat it like some sort of optional extra. Not being able to read is not as good as being able to read. Inability to read is a tragedy and a major handicap in life even if some employers don't care. I also meet lots of boys who reject reading totally at about 10-12 years of age. I guess teachers who don't think reading matters end up with students who don't think reading matters.

  2. Modelling has always been an important component of teaching, Fightfordemocracy, and your point is well-taken. In my own teaching days, I always had a book on my desk, and usually, as I allotted time to the students for either for reading or starting homework, I made a practice of reading it.

    While the reasons kids lose interest in or never acquire a passion for reading are many, having teachers who strongly believe in it is without doubt quite important.

  3. I don't think teachers and schools are solely responsible for society's literacy problems. This is a nonreading culture and the percentage of nonreaders is so high that they are influencing the intellectual life of the country negatively. There is an epidemic of stupidity snobbery - not only people aggressively proud to be ignorant but people pretending to be ignorant. It's hard to tell them apart. For instance, Doug Ford claimed never to have heard of Margaret Atwood, then claimed to be only pretending to have never heard of her. Why pretend to be ignorant? There are lots of people playing these destructive mind games.

    I met a woman whose 14 year old son read at a Grade 3 level. She was beginning to realize this was a problem in spite of his being pushed through every grade. I asked her why she hadn't done anything about it earlier and she said she didn't want to ruin his social life. Why did she have such a negative attitude to reading? This wasn't just a school problem.

    Computers are feeding into and aggravating underlying societal problems with literacy, especially when introduced before adolescence. However computers are essential for more advanced work, even in high school. They are wonderful for research and presentations - I love Powerpoint myself and am working my way through the 500 commands of Photoshop.

  4. Thank you for your well-considered comments, Fightfordemocracy. I am in complete agreement with your perspective, and I like your phrase 'stupidity snobbery,' something very evident amongst the right wing, which wears it as a badge of honour, rather reminiscent of Nixon V.P. Spiro Agnew, and his dismissive comments about the "effete intellectual snobs."

    Computers are now an essential and, in many ways a desirable part of our lives, as you point out. I would not like to go back to the days before them and the Internet, but I agree they are probably introduced far too early, before some basic skills are developed in the young.