Why “kids love this” isn’t actually good enough

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Twitter, educational websites, articles and news stories are all increasingly full of headlines about how kids love this latest gadget or that new gizmo. Photos show such children gathered around these shiny, new bits of technology pressing buttons and, apparently, learning all by themselves. Schools chuck cash at little robots and the latest big screen things with a thousand features nobody needs. They’re playing in virtual forests or putting a thing on their head and pretending to make a sandwich, yet get bored in a real forest and wouldn’t dream of making an actual sandwich they can eat. They’re flying hovering mechanical pests around while we all ignorantly pretend that one day they won’t have real weaponry on them… you know, like the real ones used by the military of powerful countries. They stare into screens with their increasingly ineffective eyes and suffer periods away from them like heroin-addicts waiting for their next hit. They will give their attention to a video of a teacher explaining something yet ignore the real human being in front of them.

Meanwhile, all the adults are saying more and more meaningless things about it all, like how “cool” or “awesome” it is. How this generation can “multi-task” so much better than previous ones. How they can learn “without us”. And, most ignorantly of all, how much “they love it”.

Now, let’s talk about something else kids “love”. Candy. They will gorge themselves on giant handfuls of fluorescent, toxic, carcinogenic, lumps of sugar, chemicals and the occasional bit of re-purposed animal product interminably until someone either stops them, it runs out or they throw up. Do we also think this is “cool” or “awesome”?

Don’t get me wrong. I think kids are capable of the most amazing things, but they still need guidance. Older generations have still earned the right to be concerned about something that doesn’t look quite right to them. People who have fought in wars or lost their fathers and uncles to conflicts that later turned out to just be testing grounds for the latest weapons technology have the right to feel uncomfortable about how robots and drones will probably end up (already are) being used and who will control them. People who grew up with gangs of friends who talked until the sun set and the voices of their mothers called them home for dinner have the wisdom to regret seeing their children and grandchildren vanish into little digital rectangles and six-second concentration spans. The millions and millions of people who have experienced the joy of arguments in the grey areas of existence between right and wrong, good or bad must have legitimate worries about generations emerging who know only of dichotomies, liking and disliking and believing the latest thing a computer told them to think.

Just because we conveniently ignore the fact that we too will be old, we too will be silenced, written off and shoved in a nursing home to wait to die by the apparently all-knowing younger generations doesn’t mean we can’t speak out now and call for some technological wisdom, some caution and maybe even… perish the thought… a little foresight? There’s a new sort of culture that’s telling us that the older people get the more stupid they become. We’re issuing licenses to our young to ignore us while willingly giving them the tools they need to dehumanise themselves and their poor unsuspecting offspring. Oh, and I forgot the best bit, manufacturing all this shite is systematically making the air, water and land too toxic for any of them to inhabit.

Yeah… “cool” right? Pretty “awesome” eh?

Now, I know most people won’t even have read this far into the posting and will have already liked, not liked, retweeted, followed or unfollowed on the basis of the title, first few sentences or whatever image I put in it. I also know that the technology I am using to write and share this is the technology I am talking about. Be careful about falling into the trap I referred to above, about completely agreeing or disagreeing, about thinking I am totally right or totally wrong. Neither you or I know… let’s not flatter ourselves. Just allow yourselves to ponder, to ask questions, to think critically and, yes, to be just about as cynical as our children and their children deserve us to be.

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8 comments

  1. Christopher Carlyle

    It saddens me the more I see “doubt” and “distrust” used in only a negative light. Doubt requites supporting evidence from one other than the speaker/author to persuade. Distrust is a good thing: it can keep us safe physically and mentally. The idea that students are swallowing whole the ideas presented to them by the media (and social media) is concerning.

    I feel that parts of the “critical-thinking” we as teachers are told to instill in our students ought to be doubt and distrust. We should encourage students to look for evidence, to keep themselves safe. In a world where “alternative facts” are a thing and the rejection of facts to offer an “only subjective” reality calls for a stronger stance from education and educators.

    • sherrattsam

      Very eloquently put. You’re right – doubt, caution, distrust, cynicism are all becoming stigmatized as “negative” in a world where you’re now either grouped as positive or negative. I was recently made, or at least there was an attempt to make me, feel stupid for questioning something and for promoting the idea of not blindly just following along. Is that really where we’re at?

      • Christopher Carlyle

        I fear that, in many ways, it is (at least in the US where I am writing from). My district and the majority of the districts around me are fully entrenched in the idea of mechanizing education. That is to say, creating one “perfect” unit and lesson that all teachers will teach in the same way at the same time. If the district believes they have done that (or that it is even possible) any attempt to question quickly becomes viewed as an attack and lack of loyalty and desire to help students become successful.

  2. Sonya terBorg

    Really interesting. Did you see there is a Day of Play coming up? Specifically mentions no screens. No adult interactions. Just kids and their (non powered) toys, playing. All day. Or a half day if you can’t do a whole day. Or an hour if you can’t do a half day. There is always a price to pay – if you choose to do something, you are also choosing to NOT DO something else. The true test of our time will be if we get that choice and the balance between those choices, right or not.

    What are you choosing NOT to do? Perhaps that is the question?

    • sherrattsam

      I will look into that, thanks Sonya. Yes, we don’t want to bring children up to be oblivious about technology, progress… whatever we want to call it. We want them to learn to be users of it, but that must come with wisdom… must come with a desire to remain human. Or, am I just being “old-fashioned”? Do any of us really want to see future generations become the hybrid digi-robo-beings of dystopian fiction. We must remember that dystopian literally means that everything is “unpleasant or bad”!!!

  3. aarondavis1

    It can be so hard to balance drinking koolaid to being critical about technology. It sometimes feels that if you are going to support technology with teachers that it is heresy to say anything against data and agency. I am wondering how we actually have a more meaningful and constructive conversation that goes beyond ‘the play’?

    P.s. I RT’d too 😉

    • sherrattsam

      Agreed. I mean, there is a huge amount that goes beyond ‘the play’ with technology… loads of skills, problem-solving, creativity and all that. These are all great “ends” in themselves, but do they justify the means? Is everything that is being sacrificed worth the scariness of the tech?

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