Newer Isn’t Always Better

A book I finished reading recently, titled The Revenge of Analog, discussed the importance of concrete things in today’s increasingly digital world. While the book discussed things like record players, moleskine notebooks, and other such physical products, it also discussed broader ideas. One subject the book tackled, ableit briefly, was that of education (in a chapter titled “The Revenge of School”).

I really appreciated this chapter, particularly one quote that talked about the idea that newer is always better. The quote was specifically noting a program called One Laptop Per Child which, a few years ago, believed that giving low-income students a laptop would be the remedy to the achievement gap. Shockingly, the idea did not live up to its hopes. The book states, “[One Laptop Per Child]’s great mistake was presuming the universal importance of a shiny technology in spite of the recommendations of people closer to the problem at hand.”

Doesn’t this sound familiar? To me at least, it sounds familiar on two fronts. First, the phrase “…in spite of the recommendations of people closer to the problem at hand” really stuck out, but that’s a topic for another day. The second piece was the idea of technology being the answer to everything in the classroom. Each year that I taught in New York, I was given some state-of-the-art literacy computer program that, I was told, would lead to revolutionary reading growth in my students. What this basically meant was that my students, instead of spending time reading actual books, spent time in front of a screen for 30 minutes per day. And it meant that the school, instead of spending thousands of dollars on books or field trips, decided to buy these programs that, at their best, didn’t harm student interest in reading. Shockingly (again), no extraordinary gains resulted.

Although I’m probably more anti-technology in the elementary classroom than most, I don’t consider myself a complete luddite. I recognize technology’s role in everyday life and that it can provide some very important tools in education, especially for educators and in special education. But, at most, I think that technology should be used as a minimal resource in schools, especially with our youngest learners. Kids get enough time in front of screens at home. Schools need to trust teachers to do their jobs and recognize that, if using technology will benefit our students, then we’ll ask to use it. Mostly, though, we need to help students get their hands dirty in schools, both metaphorically and physically. Because messy learning, in my opinion, leads to real learning.



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