Tools are not Content

A thoughtful post by Jim Duncan brings up an issue that really fires up my ire – about technology tools in the classroom. Apparently, Jim and other local “tech experts” (professionals who blog?) sat on a recent panel with educators to discuss the best ways to use tools like Twitter and blogs in the classroom – and surprise, surprise, it was the techies who were arguing that the basics of reading and writing and critical thinking should be taught instead of how to make a video podcast – and the educators who were all caught up in the idea that teaching these tools would solve whatever problems they’re having –

Well, great – so you teach a generation of kids to use iPods and video cameras and WordPress – things they probably already know how to use anyway – but none of them have read a book or thought deeply about anything, so they have all these mechanisms and gadgets and forums and formats but NO CONTENT in their heads to express!!!! DUMB.

Seriously. Makes me so mad.

I’m too tired to go into the whole ‘medium is the message’ thing – but let me just say that if the only thing we focus on in educating our children is the medium, and if we limit the media to the briefest of text messages, their thoughts, their language, their ability to follow and create complicated articulations about the world, will be severely retarded.

What do you think? 

By the way, I spent an hour with my two year old yesterday playing with crayons she had turned into little personalities of her own invention. She has dolls and baby dolls and little people and stuffed animals, but it was the pretending with the crayons that entranced her for that long.  That is, the content and activity in her brain was being exercised – not her ability to use a tool correctly. And I believe she’ll be the stronger for it…

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3 Responses to Tools are not Content

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I read your post to Brian, but it would take me about an hour to type the rant- oops- I mean response it caused. Let’s just leave it at– he agrees. So do I.

    Elizabeth

  2. ChrEliz says:

    I am in complete agreement. So many toys nowadays are geared to getting kids used to using computers, technology, etc., but I say Big Thumbs Up to low-stimulation, creativity-fostering materials (wooden dowels that can be people, rolling pins, musical instruments, anything imaginable… pots and wooden spoons… string… etc.) and to storytelling (both oral and reading books to kids) and making up games with kids. Love the crayon thing. It’s so easy for kids to be dazzled by all the plastic crap out there, but if we keep consciously fostering these crayon/wooden dowel/etc. types of play opportunities, we can really help our kids develop their brains.

    I do think it’s cool to have the chance to learn how to do podcasting in school, but only if that’s IN ADDITION TO a solid education in the fundamentals. And not just rote memorization for the purposes of passing the Shit Out of Luck exams, either — I mean that the kids should actually learn how to think, how to enjoy using their brains, and should actually learn how to learn, and develop a lifelong love of learning. Or, at the bare minimum, they should learn how to identify the Main Idea of a story, learn how to recognize bias or slant in a story, learn how to think critically about what they read, and, uh, yeah, all that stuff they taught in Math class too. Whatever the hell THAT was. *grin*

  3. Craig says:

    Agreed! Politicians seem to think that if they bring kids in close proximity to high-tech stuff, tech smarts will rub off on them. Let’s get ’em to rub iPods against their heads and maybe they’ll turn into electrical engineers! What do kids learn from typing papers in Word that they wouldn’t learn writing them by hand – except that they don’t need to know how to spell because they can use spellcheck? Is Word teaching them to compare sources? Text messaging makes you smarter?

    It would be a whole different ball game if they taught kids how to program them. That would teach them to break problems down into manageable chunks and systematically work out a solution, and that they can apply what they’ve learned to actually do stuff. But it’s not likely. To do that a school would have to hire teachers who could teach programming, and how many programmers would be willing to work on a teachers salary? Of course kids can learn pretty much the same lessons in shop class figuring out how use a hammer and nails and other tools to build things. But of course we only let the dumb kids take those … I’ll try not to go on my usual rant, Maiaoming’s heard it all before.

    ChrEliz mentioned “all that stuff they taught in Math class … Whatever the hell THAT was.” Teaching math at the algebra level and beyond used to involve teaching proofs and teaching kids how to derive equations. (“used to” = back in 19th century) The justification for this was that it taught logic. Somewhere along the way we decided that was too hard and shifted to “just memorize it.” Learning it that way it becomes just a matter of memorizing complicated directions to get the right answer to completely meaningless test problems. We completely lose track of the idea that it actually means something, that mathematical laws are actually laws of the universe; we didn’t make them up, we’ve just learned to understand them. That’s why you can use the pythagorean theorem to check if a corner’s square, and why scientists can use math to figure things out.

    I used to think of math the way ChrEliz does – I learned it the same way as everybody else – until I took statistics in college. Then it wasn’t all about memorizing equations – there was that too of course – it was about understanding which equations to use when you’re trying to figure out what from what kind of data, understanding what the answer means, or even whether there was answer in the data to get, being presented with examples of research and asked whether the conclusions drawn from it were valid or not and why. I think that’s the first time I got asked to engage in any large amount of critical thinking in school. I haven’t looked at articles reporting “a new study shows that …” the same way since.

    Sure, it’s depressing. People care about education, but actually changing it would involve pissing off constituencies, so we just get more money-spending feel-good proposals that don’t change anything. And what happens to our ability to use our own heads to figure things out after 12 years (or better) of “just memorize it”?

    — Sorry, I said I’d try not to rant, and this is long comment! Good thing I’m a slow typist.

    I don’t envy you having to decide whether or not to send your kids to public school or not, whether you can afford not to or not, and where you could send them.

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