Tech 2.0: Getting it Right

Everybody’s talkin’ technology, indeed. My post a couple of weeks ago unleashed a lively discussion in the LinkedIn Early Childhood Education, Child Care, and CCR&R Professionals Forum (What a mouthful. It’s a wonder that this field develops any cohesive identity!).

Here were the questions I posed: How is the use of “screen time” by adults affecting young children’s development? Their acquisition of language? Their sense of self with others? Their driving need, as the late psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner once said, to have someone who’s really crazy about them?

Your responses ranged all over the map—from outrage at the ubiquitousness of screens and the parents tethered to them,  to the damage to children’s language and social-emotional development, to the threat to equity posed by the digital divide.  One Donna LeMoine noted, succinctly, that her four- and five-year-olds are bringing iPads to school.  Cindy Terebush, who included a link to her blog,  clearly staked out her position: “I am not a proponent of handing iPads to preschoolers…technology…should be limited to use for research.”

Elaine Patterson railed about her frustration with “these younger moms and dads out with their children..texting and not interacting with their kids”—a  comment tinged with some of the self-righteousness to which I am often prone.  Dr. Hermanean Laauewen, a self-described private  practitioner, consultant, and social entrepreneur based in Johannesburg, South Africa, expressed sympathy for 21st century parents: “We must embrace these new challenges,” she wrote.  “Instead of having a retributive approach to parents, let’s help them to build a society that makes place for cyber moms and dads…let’s provide sound guidance, not judging and over-simplifying what has become one of the most difficult tasks today.”

As always, I’m interested in the connections between ECE and K-12—in particular, the ways in which the principles of early childhood theory and practice find their way up the education spectrum.   So I was interested to find “At a High-Tech School, Supportive Adults are the Real Key to Success,” by Thomas Toch, who directs the Washington office of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.   Yes, Rocketship Discovery Prep is an elementary school with a painfully obvious name and charter status, about which I am painfully ambivalent.  Not to mention a daily awards ceremony, the very thought of which makes me cringe.  But the school also gathers on the playground each morning for a sing-a-long, and, most important, as Toch notes:

Students are the center of the education experience at Discovery Prep. But they’re hardly flying solo. Discovery Prep’s most striking feature isn’t its learning lab but its extraordinarily nurturing environment, in which technology plays a part. It’s this human element that makes all the difference for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who, in many public schools, need far more adult support than they typically get — and certainly more than they’d get online in the digital future that many are predicting for public education.

Of course, I don’t have to tell you that children develop and learn best in the context of relationships, that “human element.”   This is where the Luddite in me rears its ugly head.  I fear for public education’s—and our children’s—digital future, if we don’t get this right.

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