In case you missed it, ISTE asked me to participate in a Point/Counterpoint faux debate over “screen time.” Unbeknownst to me, my friend Rick Weinberg was my enemy combattant. Had I known, I would have been meaner 🙂

I also didn’t know how Rick responded to the prompt when I wrote my rebuttal.

Nonetheless, I’m quite proud of my contribution in spite of the editing.

I just noticed that the debate was framed in terms of “students” rather than on children. Had I known, I would have raised a ruckus. Schools and educators have no jurisdiction on children’s lives outside of school and there is a growing sentiment in our society that the purpose of children is to “do” school. I reject this premise.

In any event, the complete “debate” may be found in PDF form here.

My argument is as follows:

No! We should not limit screen time for the following reasons:

It is wrong to be capriciously mean to children.
Adults need to do everything possible to create relationships with children based on reciprocal respect and care. Arbitrary rules only escalate intergenerational tension. Every parent knows that making something “forbidden fruit” only raises its attractive powers.

Children only do things for long periods of time that they find interesting.
It is the role of educators to understand that attraction and find ways to channel a student’s capacity for intensity in richer directions.

Educators have (limited) jurisdiction over classrooms and playgrounds, not living rooms.
Who deputized you Barney Fife? Your job title might be technology coordinator, but it’s not video game police.

It is preposterous to suggest that students get too much screen time in school. Even in schools with a laptop per child, computers tend to be quite underused, especially in constructive, creative ways. The average student in a Western industrialized nation uses a school computer less than an hour per week. Too often that paltry time is squandered on school concoctions like keyboarding instruction, tech literacy assessment, or making PowerPoint files on topics of no interest to the student or likely anyone else.

It seems odd that “edtech professionals” would make blanket arguments about technology use. Perhaps we need a greater vision and better ability to articulate the value of computers in education.

It all depends on how you define “screen.”
Only an immature understanding of computing and its potential in the intellectual and creative development of children leads to prohibitions on “screen time.” You never hear thoughtful adults complain about too much pianoing or penciling or paintbrushinging or booking. It is the bankruptcy of our imaginations that leads the edtech community to view all screen-based activities as equivalent.

Perusing the exhibit hall of an edtech conference could easily lead one to want to keep children away from screens altogether. Confections like interactive whiteboards, clickers, and data management systems may produce an illusion of modernity, but they rob children of agency and a chance to achieve their full potential.

It is the bankruptcy of our imaginations that leads the edtech community to view all screen-based activities as equivalent.

There is an alternative. Students using computers to compose music, program simulations, design video games, make films, conduct science experiments, and collaborate with experts need more screen time, not less. What if what children did with computers was good? That standard should replace all others.

Renowned computer scientist Seymour Papert might suggest that questioning the value of “screen time” is similar to asking, “Does wood make good houses?” or “Does paint make great art?” Educators helping children develop fluency in computing—where the computer is an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression that allows users to learn and create in ways unimaginable just a few years ago—never need to ask a question such as “Should we limit screen time?”

September/October 2010 Learning & Leading with Technology. Pp 8-9.

The strangest thing happened today (6/25/09). I was invited to be part of the keynote debate and dialogue at the National Educational Computing Conference in Washington D.C. this coming Tuesday, June 30th. This is a great honor indeed.

My fellow debaters include Cheryl Lemke, Michael Horn – author of “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” & Brad Jupp, Senior Policy Adviser at the US Department of Education. The session will be moderated by Robert Siegel of National Public Radio. The other NECC keynote speakers are best-selling authors Malcolm Gladwell and Erin Gruwell. (I read Gruwell’s terrific book in 1999 and brought her to my university in 2001)

I have been assigned to argue the affirmative case in the preposterous resolution, “Bricks and Mortar Schools Are Detrimental to the Future of Education.” Teaching online for fifteen years should provide some insight into the topic.

Since I’ve never debated before, I figured why not try it front of thousands of people? After presenting at twenty-two NECC Conferences, I guess the folks at ISTE figured I didn’t need more than a few days notice to prepare.


This opportunity might not have been possible without you and my friends in the “Blagosphere.” You tweeted, sent letters to ISTE on my behalf and signed my shamelessly self-serving petition. Scott Floyd was particularly tenacious and generous in his support. I am most grateful for your kindness and advocacy. Even Satan (petitioner #117) wrote a glowing reference on my behal

There is no way to know if these efforts resulted in my 11th hour invitation, but it doesn’t matter. I am humbled by your support and take my mission seriously

I fell in love with educational computing (not technology) in 1982 because I was excited by how computer programming made me feel intellectually powerful and creatively expressive. I realized in the mid-70s how computers not only held promise to help kids learn what we have always taught, but more importantly created opportunities to learn new things in new ways unimaginable even a few years ago.

Working with brilliant colleagues like Seymour Papert helped me appreciate how computers could amplify powerful principles of progressive education and make school better places to learn

That’s why I pay my own way to attend NECC each year. I believe in the importance of community and know that computers can make a positive difference in the lives of children. I remember when educational computing was inseparable from progressive school reform. I am a romantic who remains optimistic that the largest educational computing conference in the United States can be an incubator of powerful ideas and move make learning more meaningful for children and their teachers.

My well-publicized criticism (and here) of NECC’s parent organization, ISTE, is rooted in my desire to enrich our community rather than vendors and help ISTE realize its potential.

I am not just a cranky critic, although I make no apologies for lamenting the unimaginative nature of the NETs or the escalating fad-chasing exemplified by the NECC program. For several years I edited ISTE’s Logo Exchange journal, was a founder of an ISTE SIG and I recently contributed to an ISTE book about 1:1 computing. You might be surprised to learn that I signed the charter that created ISTE in 1989.

The NECC Keynote Debate will be streamed live on the World Wide Web at 8:30 AM (Eastern), Tuesday June 30th and archived online afterwards.

Please submit a question online for the keynoters to answer. You may direct a question directly to Gary Stager (via the online form) if you wish for me to speak during the Q&A portion of the keynote. You may also ask me questions directly from the floor of the hall at NECC.

I also hope you will consider attending my two NECC sessions:

Learning Adventures: Transforming Real and Virtual Learning Environments
Tuesday, 6/30/2009, 11:00am–12:00pm WWCC Ballroom B
Learn how you can transform your learning environments. Learning adventures is a pedagogical strategy for modeling noncoercive active constructionist learning online and in real classrooms. Recommended by ISTE’s SIGIVC

1:1 Critical Debates: Laptops, PDAs, Cell Phones
Panel discussion with Bruce Dixon, Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation, Susan Einhorn and Sharon Peters
Wednesday, 7/1/2009, 1:30pm–2:30pm WWCC 207 A
Laptops, PDAs, iPods, Cell Phones–are they sufficient for 1:1? Join the debate on policy, equity, and implementation issues surrounding 1:1. Recommended by ISTE’s SIG1to1

The NECC keynote is unbelievably exciting but, the upcoming Constructing Modern Knowledge institute, July 13-16th promises to be the greatest undertaking of my professional career. There are still spaces for last-minute registrants. Please check out the once-in-a-lifetime program at