Monday, October 24, 2011

Dodging Silver Bullets (or) How Tech Was Never Meant to Save Us!

I just sent a cordial (but picante!) email to Matt Richtel, the New York Times correspondent who seems to be making a career out of pulling the curtain aside on the Wizard-of-Oz that educational technology has apparently become.  Richtel's latest, a front page article, no less, draws broad conclusions about the failures of educational technology from the fact that lots of Silicon Valley masters of the universe send their children to a local Waldorf school where....da, da, da, computers at all are allowed.  The crux of the article is as follows:

1)  Learning is about engaging things, and tech is a distraction.
2)  Lots of high powered Silicon Valley types are willing to pay 18k a year to insulate their kids from computing so they can do artwork and knit socks.
3)  Kids appreciate a chance to do tangible, hands-on work.

OK--let the rebuttal begin....

1)  As I argued in two posts earlier this year (see post #1 and post #2) the key to effective deployment of any pedagogic tool (including composition books, chalkboards...and classroom wikis) is good pedagogic design.  Period paragraph.

2)  Richtel's latest article is badly flawed given that all of his data is anecdotal, site-specific and non-longitudinal.

3)  While Richtel's past articles make an effective case that the hype surrounding ed tech is much like the proverbial fire that yields more light than heat, Richtel falls into the same trap by making a fetish of Waldorf, a pedagogy that he shows little understanding of, even as he lauds it.

4)  Oh, yes, lest I forget:  Richtel does mention that tuition at the one school he profiles is $17,500 for primary grades.  Friends, without being unkind, I dare say that the children of Amazon and Google executives who run through $17k on a family vacation can well afford to have their kids knit socks and tell stories in school.  If we marched into an East Palo Alto school, where families struggle just to make ends meet, and suggested that children should be insulated from learning how to use these tools at an early age, we would meet a chilly reception, and rightly so.  The Google execs have enough cash, cachet and connections to educate their kids in technological literacy later.  I dare say that many of our families don't have such a luxury.

Your feedback is warmly welcomed in the comment box or directly to my email.  I'll also read your physical letters, but only if you keep the penmanship neat.  And no socks, please.

Dr. Allen Selis
Head of School
South Peninsula Hebrew Day School