Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Validating Mediocrity

My district has begun a new initiative. Rather than penalizing students for using phones in class, we will now celebrate them. We are supposed to allow phones, cameras, Ipads, Ipods, laptops and all other kinds of gizmos, gadgets and gewgaws to be accessed for the concept of what is labeled as "deeper understanding." In talking to teachers in other districts, this initiative seems just as trendy as Whole Language was back in the day. In short, someone has attended a seminar which has promised to solve all problems and insure good test scores. The words a teacher fears most is "The Board has been to a seminar." It's a precursor for all kinds of mischief under the guise of improvement.

Don't get me wrong. I like technology. I have a smart phone, a laptop and courtesy of a grant, all sorts of scanners, printers, cameras and digital devices. I understand that the kids in school today are not like those even five years ago. They have been steeped in the stew of digitalism from birth. And that's not a bad thing. But it is also a type of placating act to simply throw up one's hands and let them rule the school with their electronic things.

What disturbs me the most is the varying messages we get from administration. Last year there was a fine for having a cell phone. I got griped at for letting my AP students listen to music on the Ipods while they worked on independent projects. We had filters that limited access to sites like Facebook and Sodahead. In theory, the students will only access the internet via a network for them. But almost anyone with a 4G phone can subvert that. So what's the point? In the same manner when this was introduced teachers were told IN WRITING that "teachers should not be overly concerned with monitoring students' internet activity." Today we were told that we need to make sure all students are on task. Now I ask you, with thirty plus kids and their devices in class, what do you think the odds are that the average teacher is going to be able to catch all kids on task?

Another troubling aspect to this is something I observed from a film created by middle school kids in our district and shown across the district as an example of prime work. In that film, students essentially said they should be allowed to do what they want to do. In one vignette a question was asked "What were the causes of the civil war?" All the students had different ideas from different sources. That's fine, I am a fan of research. But what was not fine was the following statement "All of our opinions are valid." Really? So if I said the civil war was started by people who liked dogs better than cats, that would be equally valid? The implication is that there is no right or wrong and I take issue with that. I think in this world there are some things that are either right or wrong. Murder, right or wrong? Wrong of course. This seems to be just more of the celebration of esteem over content and that is what is wrong with our schools and our graduates today.

My future son in law read a recent article, which he's supposed to send me, that discusses how video games now are different than those even five years ago. It seems that games like "Myst" where there are no cheats, no shortcuts and no freebies which are pure mental problemsolving are gone. Today's games give hints, cheats are prevalent and the problemsolving element has gone down greatly. One man who wrote code for game systems had his son ask for Nintendo Connect. The father asked why and the son said he wanted to play games with his friends. This was a preteen kid, the ripe age for video games of all kinds. So the father said that if the son could beat one of his old Nintendo games, he would get him the system. The son has worked on it for three months and has not even leveled up one level. What does this say about the soft bigotry of making things easier and academic achievement? What does this say about our future?