Today I was telling my wife about my previous blog post on an article I was reading called Compensating for Computers. As a social scientist and something of an expert on social learning she immediately cut to the chase with this great quote:
You have to give them roots before you give them wings.
This got me thinking about something else Monke mentioned in his article about how he felt when he taught his students about the internet.
I was about to give my high school students more power to do more harm to more people than any teens had ever had in history, and all at a safe distance. They could inflict emotional pain with a few keystrokes and never have to witness the tears shed. They could destroy hours of work accomplished by others not because of ill-will, but simply because the files of these poorly protected network users provided convenient bullseyes for youth flexing their new found muscles.
This may be a little overstated but I think there is some truth in this. I am a real believer that in today`s global society it is very important that I as a middle and high school teacher use web 2.0 social networking tools to extend my students reach further than our small school on Vancouver Island. But I`m not sure I believe this is true for elementary school children. In fact I`m pretty sure that exposing children to social networking tools at a young age in NOT the best way to educate good digital citizens. They need lots of exposure to lots of tangible experiences that help them become good citizens first, before we add the “digital” part.
I`m starting to wonder whether there might not be an interesting case to be made for an elementary curriculum designed to give our students ROOTS that dovetails into an middle and high school curriculum that gives them social networking WINGS. The roots would be lots of non-virtual things like a sense of place; a connection with nature; social skills; group work skills; conflict resolution skills. I know that all these things that are already done in elementary schools but in order to prepare students for a world in which they will need to apply these skills in a virtual setting I think that the roots become even more important so that they have a foundation for when they get older and are given their wings.
Aside #1: I am a big fan of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT. Their mission in to extend the kindergarten style of learning so that learners of all ages can learn through designing, creating, experimenting and exploring. They suggest that we have slowly done away with this kind of learning in order to get kids ready to take tests at earlier and earlier ages. I wonder if we might be in danger of doing this same thing with technology. As we start to use it more and more in the older grades the temptation is to say `Well, if we can just get them doing this with technology at an earlier grade then just think what they will be able to do when they get to high school.` But their are lots of skills they need to be good digital citizens that can`t (or shouldn’t) be taught using a computer.
Aside #2: After writing this post I was directed to this interesting article from Zone’n Workshops. It’s definitely a fairly alarmist article, but there was one part that I think is worth reproducing:
Each individual would benefit from discovering their “just right” level
of technology to promote academic and workplace achievements, but also
understand how to balance this technology with activities that promote
physical and mental health. Children obviously need help with managing
this difficult task. Achieving this balance will promote optimal brain
efficiency, while maintaining a place on the world stage as leaders in
I think this is our role as educators in the 21st century. To figure out what the “just right” level of technology is at all age levels and help our students develop the discipline to use technology and not be used by it.