Once upon a time, I was in elementary school. (My kids find this hard to believe. Some of them also think I am a million years old.)
In this long-ago time and place, we had this magical time once a week called computer lab. We got to walk down the hallway to a classroom filled with rows of computers and spend 30 minutes immersed in “modern” technology.
This modern technology included the most up-to-date 5 1/4 and 3 1/2 floppy disk drives and a black screen with either green or orange text. Kids today have no idea.
This computer lab time was filled with games such as Wheel of Fortune, Concentration, and Oregon Trail. (Oh, Oregon Trail. You and your dysentery and your broken wagon wheels.) Looking back on it now from the perspective of 2015, it seems crazy that we got a half hour each week to essentially goof off. I suppose the school justified it as introducing us to computers. It’s not like there was an Internet to log on to back then.
And school today isn’t like school back then.
Now I’m the teacher in the classroom, and we have a computer lab…but every time I try to use it, it’s being used for a practice test or an actual test, and testing is far more important than anything else. Our schools and districts spend hundreds of millions of dollars on computer programs that require each student to have their own log-in and password so it can track their progress in reading or math or learning the English language. These computer programs will show where I, the teacher, am lacking in teaching my students. These computer programs will save the day, save the child, and save the school’s test scores.
Except when I look over my children’s shoulders, I see a different picture.
The first thing I see is the technical problems. Ridiculously long log-ins for children who have no idea where the letters are on the keyboard, let alone have the developmental ability to look at a log-in on a piece of paper and transfer it to a screen. Programs and websites that skip, freeze, or repeat the same page over and over again, leading to frustration from both me and the kids.
The other thing I see is more insidious. For those who can get logged in and get to work, I see what they’re working on. And what I notice, over and over and over and OVER again, is that what they’re doing is something I’m already doing in the classroom.
Something that we aren’t doing as much because we have to spend x minutes a day or week logged in to the tracking device–um, computer program.
I now teach in a world where it only matters if it’s trackable. Measureable. Can be printed out and hung on a wall–preferably where the children can see it and be publicly shamed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends
Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.
When I think back on the computer programs they want to force on my kids, all I can see is that this is violating the AAP’s recommendation. It’s going against my gut, my teacher instinct. It’s going against common sense.
Parents, we teachers need you standing up with us to fight this. A computer screen is not, and should not, be replacement for a teacher.
Will the decision makers ever come to this conclusion?