I hold Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige of Lesley University (aka: Matt Damon’s mother) in great esteem, but was alarmed by her recent contribution to The Answer Sheet in the Washington Post. Dr. Carlsson-Paige makes a critical error all-too common among progressive educators. She confuses modernity with an attack on childhood.

I have asked the Valerie Strauss, editor of The Answer Sheet, for an opportunity to write a full rebuttal. In the meantime, here are the comments I whipped together and published on the web site, along with a stray one or two.

Dr. Carlsson-Paige is correct that most “educational” software is crap, but she jumps to some conclusions that I find quite disappointing and wrong. Her intergenerational panic conflates a great number of issues and will alarm parents well-conditioned to overreacting.

She identifies the drop in creativity (citation would have been nice) in children between kindergarten and sixth grade).  Could this not be due to the dramatic changes in schooling that Carlsson-Paige rightly rails against, such as the narrowing of curriculum, endless test-prep, drill & practice and lack of arts education? Perhaps, technology has slowed the decline in creativity, however that is measured, being caused by school. Children building and LEGO programming robots, making movies, composing music, designing worlds in Minecraft, sewing wearable computers, playing with Squishy Circuits (conductive and non-conductive clay), programming their own video games, collaborating with others over great distances are demonstrable evidence of childhood creativity.

It is quite possible that school has a greater prophylactic impact on creativity than the Internet.

It is hideously simplistic to privilege one media over another, especially when decrying the death of creativity or loss of innocence. For example, nobody ever questions the cognitive value or impact on creativity of a kid holding a Hotwheels car and saying, “Vroom Vroom,” over and over again for hours at a time. We value that activity, right? Do we have any evidence that it is more beneficial than a toy with batteries or Internet connection? Does a wooden toy increase creativity more than one made of plastic? If drawing with a crayon is better than drawing with your finger on a screen, why is it so? How do we know? Is drawing with a crayon better for childhood development than drawing with chalk?

If a child was shown a photo of Mom and Dad on a screen or able to video chat with them (as is possible in the real world of the child), would that somehow be worse than carrying a physical photo? Would a cherished video clip of mother and child harm a child’s ability to develop resilience?

What role are parents playing in the overregulation of children’s play through overprotection and over-scheduling? What is the impact of homework on play? What has silent lunch and the end of recess done to children’s creative development?

Why not evaluate the quality of the activity rather than superficial aspects of the medium?

Television is passive, but Dora the Explorer may have value beyond its tranquilizing effect. Surely, there are incredibly engaging ways in which computers can and are used by children. Educators should do much better job of bringing those rich modern experiences to children.

How can having the ability to answer any question you wonder about instantly be bad for children? If you make simple things easy to do, you make complexity possible.

In my humble opinion, we visit great violence on the development of young people by dishonoring or ignoring the world and milieu in which they live. Nostalgia is no substitute for reason.

Welcome to Uzupis!

I enjoyed a lovely lunch today in the Republic of Užupis. In between bites of pizza, I couldn’t help but think of how many teachers are busily assembling the class rule and penalty documents for distribution on the first day of school.With each passing year, these reams of paper begin to resemble the US tax code in size, scope, severity and arbitrariness.

Welcome back kids! Here’s the list of ways we expect you to screw-up and be punished over the next 180 days. If you do not bring this document back to school tomorrow, signed by a parent, the cycle of punishment will begin with all due haste!

Don’t strain your back hanging the laminated set of class rules used for decades. Why not consider adopting the Constitution of Užupis for class governance?

Constitution of The Republic of Užupis

  1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
  2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
  3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
  4. Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
  5. Everyone has the right to be unique.
  6. Everyone has the right to love.
  7. Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
  8. Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
  9. Everyone has the right to be idle.
  10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat.
  11. Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
  12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
  13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.
  14. Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.
  15. Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.
  16. Everyone has the right to be happy.
  17. Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
  18. Everyone has the right to be silent.
  19. Everyone has the right to have faith.
  20. No one has the right to violence.
  21. Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.
  22. No one has the right to have a design on eternity.
  23. Everyone has the right to understand.
  24. Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
  25. Everyone has the right to be of any nationality.
  26. Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.
  27. Everyone shall remember their name.
  28. Everyone may share what they possess.
  29. No one can share what they do not possess.
  30. Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
  31. Everyone may be independent.
  32. Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
  33. Everyone has the right to cry.
  34. Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
  35. No one has the right to make another person guilty.
  36. Everyone has the right to be individual.
  37. Everyone has the right to have no rights.
  38. Everyone has the right to not to be afraid.
  39. Do not defeat
  40. Do not fight back
  41. Do not surrender

The motto of Užupis, “Don’t Fight! Don’t Win! Don’t Surrender!” would be swell for your school as well. This web site has a terrific tour of Užupis I recommend reading it.

As you begin another school year, my best advice comes from the great American philosopher Gerald Norman Springer, “Take care of yourselves and each other!”