iPads for Kindergartners: showcasing the generation gap

According to a recent post on The Unofficial Apple Weblog, some parents in Auburn, Maine are opposed to a recent decision to purchase iPad 2’s for all 300 kindergartners in the district to use in the classroom. There are a lot of issues that this brings up.

Number one, to me, is this notion that technology, in and of itself, is inherently or possibly harmful to children. It’s as if giving kids an iPad means their natural development will somehow be stunted as a result. It reminds me of how I was told as a child to not sit so close to the TV. Why? It will hurt your eyes. Or you get exposed to too much radiation, I was told. But, the reality? It’s because parents don’t trust new technology.

This is just plain silly. This is the outlook of the Luddite, one who fears all new technology and insists that the way we have been doing it so far is better and we shouldn’t change at all. We all know some of these people. They proudly make statements like, “I don’t have a cell phone and I don’t need one! I don’t want to be available wherever I am!” Or, “I hardly ever use my computer. If I need to know something I can read a book about it!” Or, “Email? Just send me a letter. Stop being lazy and use a pen to write me something. Or better, why not visit?!”

Every era has Luddites. I’m sure that when the pen was invented someone claimed that etching words in stone or clay was better because it allowed you to think more about what you were going to write since you couldn’t just start over so easily. In the same way, people today will insist that writing on paper is so much better than typing out thoughts for similar reasons. And typewriters are better than computers.

Read the article regarding the parental opposition linked above that quotes the mother who says that she’s concerned her son won’t develop right because he needs to learn the fine motor skills involved in writing with a pencil and you can’t learn that by pointing and swiping at a screen. Yes and no. It’s true that you can’t get good at writing if you don’t do it. But, what if writing with a pen and paper is something these kids won’t do? Ten to fifteen years ago, it was unusual to have a cell phone. I remember getting my first cell phone in the late 1990’s. I remember having a beeper, of all things, through much of college. But, today, I don’t even have a home phone because my cell phone handles all the voice communications I need to have that aren’t face to face. On top of that, I hardly ever talk on my phone. I get a lot of communication done by text and email. Many teenagers these days don’t even use email any more!

The world is changing. And, it’s changing fast. Too fast? Doubtful. But, you can’t stop a river by throwing pebbles into it. Let’s say it’s true, though. Realistically, our technology is outstripping our evolution. For example, we should not sit in chairs because our bodies are not built for it. Our bodies have evolved over time to be good at walking and running upright. We are also built to squat. But, sitting in a desk chair is amazingly bad for your back. So, really, we should get rid of all of our chairs. But, no one is seriously going to take the desks out of the classroom.

So, are iPad’s harmful to children? No, they are no more harmful than chairs, other computers, books, or any other kind of new technology. Did I just say that chairs are new technology? Well, from an evolutionary standpoint, they are very new. Our skeleton and body take a long time to change. The chair has only been around in wide use for about 1,000 years.

This article goes on to quote teachers who say that the kids will be using the iPads no more than about a 1/2 hour a day. That’s an unbelievably small amount of time. If you ask me, it’s too short. Those saying that spending $200,000 on iPads is a waste of money in these days of tight budgets may be right in a sense. I think if you use the iPad to replace textbooks and paper then it might end up being worth it.

The other part that really cracks me up is that these parents are upset because they weren’t consulted prior to the school district making this decision. On one hand, I’m happy that parents want to be involved with their children’s education. But, really, do teachers need to run all of their decisions past parents or just the ones that are involving technology that scares their parents? It’s totally ridiculous. I think these parents are less concerned about the development of their children’s handwriting abilities and more about the fact that they feel old watching their kids take to new technology like ducks to water.

I laughed aloud when I read the parent’s quote saying that if she got an iPad in her hand she would zone out and not listen to a teacher because of this thing in her hands. To me, this just points out how this parent is not a qualified teacher! A teacher would know how to use the new tool to their advantage. No decent teacher is going to let kids just sit and play while they’re teaching. And, if a kindergartner is going to ignore a teacher and play instead, they don’t need an iPad to do it. They can distract themselves just as efficiently with some boogers and scabs.

I happily let my 5 year old son play with computers. He has his own computer and his own iPod. The hardest thing for him is spelling words correctly when he wants to Google something. But, what I think is cool is that he sounds words out or asks you to write it down for him. And, then he’s off and running. He has never had to ask me how to use his iPod, or my iPad when I have let him. The interfaces just make sense to him.

This is where technology is going. It will become a seamless integration with our lives. And, our children will have grown up using it. They will use it more than we did and without thinking about it. What we need to stop doing it is trying to stop them from using it. We need to start thinking about what the world will look like at that time. Do I really need to do math in my head if I have a calculator? Why do I need to memorize times tables if I can use the calculator on my smart phone or iPad? Why do I need to know the dates of the Civil War battles if I can look them up on Wikipedia wherever I am? Wouldn’t it be better to start thinking about teaching kids to use information to help them? Like, thinking about what happened in the Civil War and what it means to us today? What are the implications of slavery? What are the implications of a nation divided and brother being forced to fight brother? What can I do with multiplication and other math operations? How much money will I pay on a loan over time? Do I even need to know how to figure out that if I have an app for that?

We need to stop wringing our hands over technology and learn to use it to make our lives better.

The implicit message in the parents’ protest, though, is a disrespect and mistrust of teachers and education. Do we really believe that teachers can’t be trusted to make good educational decisions about the use of technology in the classroom? Do we really believe that teachers who have been trained and have experience educating children can’t be trusted to use new tools correctly? I think it’s sad that this has happened. Yes, there are a lot of people that trust and respect teachers. But, there are too many who don’t. Have we really earned this mistrust? Most teachers I know genuinely want the best for their students. They might make mistakes, but they aren’t trying to hurt the kids. There is a notion among parents that since they have been in the classroom for years themselves as students that it means they know more about teaching than teachers. This is like saying that because I have watched a lot of television that I must know how to make TV shows. You might know something about it, but it doesn’t make you a producer.

I hope that eventually people will learn to trust teachers again. And, I hope Luddites will stop trying to oppose progress.


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