I had a Norman Rockwell moment the other day. My wife and I were at a store looking for glasses when I happen to notice a small child in one of those carriages that are more for holding a child at bay instead of just holding a child. In the carriage was a young person holding a cell phone. I was shocked to see this 3 or 4 year old swishing his or her finger across the screen looking some entertainment. Near the carriage was a young man who must have been the father holding onto his own cell phone trying to find a means to take care of his family. Nearby was the mother half looking at a display of glasses but still looking down at her cell phone hoping not to miss an important text from someone she thought important.
The problem with this perfect image of the modern American family was none of the members of the family spoke, interacted, or even looked at each other. At first I though this image was simply a snapshot in time but it lasted for at least fifteen minutes or the time it took for my wife to discover she didn’t like any of the glasses on display.
As a teacher of over three decades I see this image too many times at school. All of my students have i-phones, i-pads, i-pods, or any other i-something that their generation has decided it needs to survive their lives. I don’t see this in my classroom because it is not allowed but I do see a change in my students. Even though they don’t have the electronics to use they seem to have lost the art of communication. Every now and then I wander down to the cafeteria to get that extra bite of food for lunch and notice the noise of past lunch periods are replaced by the tapping of both virtual and non-virtual keyboards. Some of my younger colleagues think this is a good thing. The older colleagues do not.
I believe there is a loss of imagination when one is told what to think by a machine instead of doing what one thinks. The people who lived back during the 1950’s had this same concern during the advent of television. Many parents allowed their children to watch only a few hours of TV. Today this is not a problem because the almighty social media has replaced the television. Today fewer parents have any control over what or how many hours their children stare into a small screen to be shown what they are supposed to do.
My younger colleagues don’t see the problem. In fact, they envelope the concept that teaching should involve more technology instead of keeping the technology out of the classroom. Most of the classrooms are filled with i-pads or computers that do most of the teaching. The student goes into a program at which time they go through a series of lessons that are animated on their screens. They do this quietly with little time for conversation with their peers or teachers about the lesson. The energy factor is low and the enthusiasm is more toward getting the lesson completed instead of becoming excited about what the lesson means.
Most schools, and thus most classrooms, take advantage of the new technologies. Virtual High School (VHS) and other programs like VLACS take the teacher out of the equation and replace it with programs that are said to do a better job. There are now “flipped classrooms” in which the teacher is able to teach a lesson virtually to many students at a time. The students then come into the classroom to ask questions about the lesson. In other words, homework is done at school and the lesson is taught at home.
The other day a new teacher observed my classroom and was surprised to see me lecture to my students and have open conversation about the concepts at hand. When she was leaving the class she didn’t understand how this “sage on a stage” philosophy could work. I told it has worked for all of my career.
I have a three-year-old granddaughter. She has the most wonderful imagination I’ve ever observed. She can make up stories or situations that would have any writer of fiction or stage jealous of. My daughter and her husband want to get her an i-pod for Christmas. I am in fear that having a machine tell her what to think will overwhelm her pure concepts of imagination and innovation.
I had a Norman Rockwell moment the other day. I don’t want to ever see it in my classroom and fear it will take place in my family.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and writer living in York, Maine
You can see more of his views on education at: A Dinosaur of Education http://fabiano.magic-city-news.com/