Technology is a useful tool for a few things in life and in the educational world. Only a few things. One is for record keeping. The other is its use as a creative medium, akin to musical instruments or paint. There is another final use which is a two-edged sword. It is useful for tracking down information if you are properly trained in critical, logical, and skeptical thought. But it is not a tool made for delivering that found content in a way which partners with how our brains process information. That makes this last use of technology an enticing intellectual danger. This is because it has been determined definitively at this point that consuming anything more than surface level content digitally is counterproductive to memory formation and deep thought. But this fast acquisition of surface content is highly addictive to people. And as they consume more and more of this shallow type of content, people lose the ability to wrestle with deep content. I have lost count of how many of my friends and acquaintances over the years have told me they used to read books all the time. But now they can't. The book The Shallows, a Pulitzer Prize finalist book by Nicholas Carr, answers why they can't. It answered why I couldn't. That book scared the daylights out of me. There is a reason it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist the year it came out. And now the latest studies of reading for pleasure among children show that they are doing less and less of it. I remember when the Harry Potter books came out and we teachers thought we were entering a golden age of children reading as young student after student heaved around those thick books everywhere they went. This was the case even in the inner-city schools, where I was a teacher at the time. But that was right before the internet, smart phones, myspace and its followers, and of course YouTube. You rarely see students doing that in the school hallways anymore. Look in their backpacks. Very few will have a book of any weight in it anymore (that they chose for pleasure).
There was a time I was totally consumed by the technology world. I was a computer science teacher and ran a side business doing computer consulting for small businesses and private schools. I was programming and running my school district's virtual learning environment in my spare time. I was the webmaster for whatever school I was teaching at. I was sending out daily humorous emails pointing out tips for technology use in the classroom that were read by county office administrators and school teachers at different schools and archived on the county's email servers publicly for other teachers to refer back to at their leisure. I trained students to become international champions in international computer programming competitions. I believed technology was the key to better educating our students. And then I started to see the first truly scientific studies coming out about technology's effects on people. And the results were all, without exception, disturbing. Then I read the book The Shallows and began a very painful sea change in my opinion on the uses of technology. Eventually I unplugged from technology for the most part. And I found I was the happier and more peaceful for it. After years of getting my bearings while avoiding most of technology (becoming a virtual luddite), I reentered technology usage in a far more nuanced and careful way. And my life has been the better for it.
This article in the Times, points out the lie that is currently infecting our school systems and draining our budgets, and discusses a little of the research surrounding why it is truly a lie.
Link: The Times
Alan Leshner, the interim CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (The United States' most prestigious and influential professional organization devoted to science), put out an editorial this month, in the journal Science, in response to many in our country trying to use mental illness as a scapegoat for mass shootings. There is a new emphasis in our school system, and I am sure many others, on finding students with mental illness, which started last year in the wake of yet more school shootings. Our country has had two more mass shootings before the start of this school year, and the push in the schools to detect students with mental illnesses has concurrently increased.
Leshner comes out swinging in his first paragraph, making it crystal clear where Science stands on this issue (emphasis mine):
"The United States is experiencing a public health epidemic of mass shootings and other forms of gun violence. A convenient response seems to be blaming mental illness; after all, “who in their right mind would do this?” This is utterly wrong. Mental illnesses, certainly severe mental illnesses, are not the major cause of mass shootings. It also is dangerously stigmatizing to people who suffer from these devastating disorders and can subject them to inappropriate restrictions. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, the best estimates are that individuals with mental illnesses are responsible for less than 4% of all violent crimes in the United States, and less than a third of people who commit mass shootings are diagnosably mentally ill. Moreover, a large majority of individuals with mental illnesses are not at high risk for committing violent acts. Continuing to blame mental illness distracts from finding the real causes of mass shootings and addressing them directly."
The editorial goes on to talk about what really needs to be done to reduce mass shootings: real research into gun violence.
My thoughts: What students battling mental illness need is kindness, a sense of belonging, and a peaceful day, just like all other people. If they are provided those things, they will hopefully feel safe and secure enough to ask for help when they need it. It's probably not a good time to be labeled mentally ill right now thanks to the politicization of the issue, not that it ever has been. The best thing that can be given to all people battling mental illnesses, by those who are not actual professionals in mental health, is true friendship. And to be someone's friend, you don't need to know they are fighting that battle. You just have to be the type of person that gives those around you the benefit of the doubt. You must appreciate the apparent oddness in others and just go with it. Teachers should be doing this automatically with students already, one would hope. We shouldn't need to be told someone has an illness in order to act compassionately toward that person. And if all educators simply behaved this way, students fighting this fight would come to them for help, if necessary, more often than not.
Here's an article by a teacher about the general uselessness of most homework. It also brings out the important point that homework steals inter-family time that can not be gotten back. Therefore, teachers should ask if the homework they are giving is important enough to take away some more of the little remaining time children have with their family in the evening before bed. One thing that comes to my mind is the issue of whether the homework can be done together with the parents or not. For instance, reading homework can certainly be done as a family. All families should read together, in my opinion. So an assignment to read in the evening should not be taking away from family time. On the other hand, there are those monstrous projects some teachers assign students with strict guidelines that the students' parents are not to help them. Those things are definite family time thieves.
Fascinating way to look at the issue...
Article: The Guardian
Here's a good article from NPR explaining how many majority non-white school districts end up getting less money per student than the majority white school districts. The only way to eliminate this is to end school district funding based on local property taxes.
Article Link: NPR
Well this was interesting. I ran across this article from a few years ago showing that teacher attrition in the first five years of teaching is only 17%. For years people have been saying it's around 50%. Fascinating.
Link: Washington Post Article
Here's a news article about Dungeons and Dragons being used to help people with autism develop social skills. Very cool!Link: CBC News in Nova Scotia
Here's an interesting article about the potential benefits of using Dungeons and Dragons with Gifted children.APA PsycNET Link: International Journal of Play Therapy
Here's an interesting article in The Atlantic on the shift from humanities majors to STEM majors. Students entering college are much more interested in degrees that they think will get them a job these days. I think the emphasis on STEM in the K12 public school systems is overdone right now. Yes there are jobs in STEM, but not enough for all the young people being funneled into the field. STEM jobs are becoming highly competitive.Article Link
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