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.
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.