Teaching Like It’s 1980

Rethinking the way Schools (dis)Respect Digital Natives

Most classrooms still look like this
2010 photo of a 4th-grade room.

Most of today’s educators were born too soon. We are not digital natives. Moreover, developments that you might call “market forces” in the last several decades actually have held most teachers back from fully participating in the digital revolution.

As a result, we really don’t “get it.”

All too many of us are still teaching as if it’s 1980 . . . except with a computer cart in the corner, to use sometimes.  Oh, sure, some of us have “smart boards” where our blackboards used to be, and some of us are required to keep in touch with parents via email.

But most educators just fundamentally see digital media (by which they mean “computers”) as a sort of add-on.

  • We still think of textbooks as physical, printed-and-bound objects.
  • We make our students turn off or put away their cell phones when they come to class.
  • We restrict access to the Internet, except for narrowly-defined assignment objectives.
  • We often absolutely ban Facebook, Twitter, and other social media from our classrooms.
  • We demand undivided attention when we are speaking to the class.
  • We believe that, to be readily available, facts must be memorized.
  • We call it “cheating” when our students look up answers.
  • When we make websites, they are almost invariably really lame.
I am pretty sure we have managed to get all of these things (and more) exactly backwards.
That’s because it isn’t 1980 anymore.  I actually remember teaching in 1980, and a whole lot of my colleagues do, too. For us and for our students, that is unfortunately a problem. Today’s students have grown up using technology that never even existed when we were growing up. This has changed the way they see and interact with the world. It also has fundamentally altered the kind of world their future holds. A “1980” education is simply not going to cut it, for these kids, even if we do pull out the computer cart from time to time.
In upcoming posts, I intend to explore each of the points I’ve listed above, and look at the reasons why we should revise our practices regarding every single one.
IMAGE CREDITS: 
Many thanks to “Gourmet Spud” for the fourth-grade classroom photo from the “Parent-Teacher Night” post on the Food Court Lunch blog. 
Enthusiastic appreciation also is due to the Tulsa Public Schools Department of Instructional Technology for the Pirillo & Fitz cartoon.

Gone Again!

I may get to see this scene in person, this week!  

By the time this is posted, I plan to be in San Francisco. Yes, I know I just started posting entries again.  Those reasons were highly stressful.  This reason is not.

The vacation was an unexpected opportunity, not to be missed! Passionate as I am about education reform, meeting deadlines and doing my work as usual is not a helpful way to enjoy a vacation.

So I hope you’ll enjoy this prize-winning view of the City by the Bay, until I return in a couple of weeks. While you’re at it, you might enjoy other views of US historic landmarks that won the 2005 contest, “Imaging Our National Heritage.” This view of the hillside, bay, cable cars and Alcatraz was photographed by Thomas Fake, and won first prize in the competition, which was sponsored by the National Historic Landmarks program of the National Park Service.

By the time I return, I hope to have been in fruitful contact with all of my digital-native respondents, and have one or more posts to offer, about ways that schools can respect the needs and perspectives of the current “digital” generation.

Respect for Military Families and their Students:

Recent publications paint an ugly picture

We’ve seen a lot of flag-waving recently.
How sincere is it, really?

Memorial Day. Flag Day. Independence Day. Elections coming soon.

Seems as if we’ve seen a whole lot of flag-waving and “support our troops” slogans, recently.  But how is that working out for our military families?

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the news has a pretty good idea of the answer to that.  The families of active-military personnel have been faced with repeated, extremely long deployments in recent years. Returning National Guard veterans often find their old jobs have been given to others, and all veterans are discovering than in this economy it’s extremely hard to find new ones.  Veterans’ mental health care, particularly in the case of PTSD sufferers, is frequently inadequate.

This is a dilapidated roof at Clarkmoor
Elementary at Ft. Lewis, WA
. Photo by
Emma Schwartz for iWatch News.

Now add to all that the fact that apparently their kids aren’t being at all well served in school, either.

Just this week, “Daddy, Why Is My School Falling Down?” was published in Newsweek. The article, based on a longer one by author Kristen Lombardi originally published in iWatch News, focuses on the dilapidated, often unhealthy and unsafe condition of many schools on US military bases.

This closet is part of a 73-year-old Nazi
barracks, now Boeblingen Elementary
on a US base in Germany.  Photo by
Jenny Hoff for iWatch News.

Reading these articles, I was repeatedly reminded of the horrifying schools for poor children, described in Jonathan Kozol’s landmark 1991 book, Savage Inequalities.  Leaks like “Niagara Falls,” cracked bricks, termite-infested walls, and backed-up toilets all sounded hauntingly familiar.

The principal of Geronimo Road Ele-
mentary in Ft. Sill, OK
 can slide his
finger into some of the wall cracks.
Photo: Emma Schwartz for iWatch News.

The situation is not entirely hopeless. The Department of Defense has set up a task force to inspect the schools on military bases, though of course that doesn’t necessarily mean better schools are coming anytime soon.  
But why has there ever been a question about replacing or repairing schools on military bases in a timely way, when there always seemed to be enough money to fund billion-dollar weapons systems the generals have said they don’t even need? 

Just a month earlier than the Lombardi report, Education Week published “The Need to Support Students from Military Families,” by Ron Avi Astor. This commentary outlines the difficulties students from military families of ten face in public schools, where there apparently is little consciousness of their situation and even less understanding.

According to Astor, the state of California has “created a military-connected school-survey module” to aid in “understanding the experiences of military students and parents in public schools.” The fact that other states have not yet “follow[ed] California’s lead” gives us a glimpse of the remaining gap.

Why on earth isn’t gaining such background information about all incoming students already standard operating procedure for schools everywhere? Such information is fundamental for any kind of responsive education practice, and essential for helping gauge a child’s “starting point.”

Jill Biden and Michelle Obama have
joined forces with Education Secretary
Arne Duncan to help military families.

Last January, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, along with Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, launched an initiative focused on military-connected schools, which may eventually bear some fruit.

As an example of the needs they plan to address, according to the US Department of Education it is an issue for some public schools to allow students to be absent so they can greet parents who are returning from deployments.

I read this and wonder how anyone with an ounce of empathy can possibly question the logic of excusing such an absence. After all, one of the greatest stressors on military children is their parents’ absence–so much so, it can seriously affect grades and attendance.

We’ve been at war for a solid decade. Why in Heaven’s name are any of these issues still a problem?  In the name of decency and our country’s honor, how is it possible that they only now are in the the earliest stages of being addressed?

If ever a situation reeked of misplaced priorities, surely the plight of military families with school children is a prime example.

PHOTO CREDITS: The combined image of the US flag, the Statue of Liberty, and an eagle is from All Posters, where you can buy this image in several formats.  The 3 photos of dilapidated Pentagon-run schools by Emma Schwartz and Jenny Hoff are from iWatch News. The photo of Jill Biden and Michelle Obama is from Zimbio.

Pulled away for too long!

I apologize for the recent lack of posts.  I plead a perfect storm of obligations pulling me in other directions–but you should know I have not forgotten this blog! 

I’ve been at work gathering opinions from digital natives about changes they’d like to see in “the way school is done.” I think the series that will result from this could be interesting. 

Until then, however, at least you know I still care.

PHOTO CREDIT: Many thanks to Bradley William Whitney, and his Tumblr.com page!