By Jeff Lantos, Los Angeles Times, 10/25/13
Unlike a computer, I can inspire, critique, counsel, and model good behavior.
The Los Angeles Unified School District’s plan to supply every student with an iPad is, to be charitable, not going well. Before any more school districts decide to spend millions on high-tech gadgets, let me offer a few words of caution….
Computers and their offspring are wonderful tools for word processing. The Internet also makes it easier for students to do research and to communicate with peers. And for many teachers, computers have replaced work sheets that reinforce concepts taught in directed lessons.
Of course, high-tech gizmos can also be used for plenty of other classroom projects. For instance, my students could easily spend all day creating Keynote presentations or generating book reports that look like Pfizer’s annual report. But is that the best use of precious class time? And is that the best use of me?
The fact is I’m the last guy you would want overseeing any high-tech razzle-dazzle in the classroom. But I am your man when it comes to delivering content, piquing a student’s curiosity, helping a hesitant writer formulate a persuasive essay and encouraging students to make connections across the curriculum. And unlike a computer, I can inspire, critique, counsel, model good behavior and put on five shows a week….
[An] argument you’ll hear from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and others is that schools need a high-tech “disruption,” a cyber-shock that will send students scurrying to their glowing screens where they will absorb the knowledge that will lift them to ever higher levels of achievement.
I have three responses. First, in my experience, what technology disrupts is classroom discussion, debate, collaboration, cooperation and social interaction. Many students are going to spend the next 60 years primarily dealing with some type of tech tool. Before they go into those digital cocoons, shouldn’t they learn how to relate to, have empathy for and communicate with classmates? Shouldn’t they be taught how to respectfully disagree, to defend a point of view, to negotiate and to compromise?
Second, another thing computers disrupt is the desire to get some exercise. Staring at that screen has a drug-like effect on students…. No surprise that one side effect of excessive computer use is obesity.
Third, if bureaucrats and billionaires really want to “disrupt” the traditional educational model, they should forget iPads and Androids. Instead,…imagine an educational model in which music, dance and drama are part of every lesson. Imagine students singing about math properties, taking history from the page to the stage, dancing their way through the Constitutional Convention and the Lewis and Clark expedition, acting out scenes from novels, borrowing from Tom Lehrer and singing the periodic table of elements….
Drama helps students develop oral language and people skills. Dance gets kids off their butts. Music fires up the neural synapses, improves retention of the material and brings a sense of joy into the classroom.
I have a piano in my classroom. My students start each school day with 15 minutes of singing and dancing. In January, I conducted an experiment. I said to my students: “We’re facing drastic budget cuts. We have to get rid of either the 15 laptops or the piano. Which should it be?” I don’t think I have to tell you the response.
Jeff Lantos teaches in Los Angeles.