News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Flashpoint

February 5, 2012

FLASHPOINT: Tech trail leading us into a dense, digital forest

It seems the Southwest Parke schools are the latest to play the laptop lottery game.

The Trib-Star reports (See Sue Loughlin, “Schools transitioning to digital curriculum,” Jan. 29, 2012) that the SW Parke schools are moving toward a digital curriculum. The story concludes with this:

“Use of digital curriculum will be one component, ‘a small part,’ of teacher evaluations, [Kyle] Kersey [Riverton Parke assistant principal] said.”

I looked carefully but full dollar cost estimates of support equipment, service upkeep, specialized tutors and administration, space allotments, workshops, staff time and costs of downtime were not covered in this article.

The price tag on this wild blue yonder shift will certainly be high enough to call into question that last line in the story, the one about, “Use of digital curriculum will be one component, ‘a small part,’ of teacher evaluations.”

Who would doubt in these times of spurious “accountability” in all things educational that someone in a green eye shade hasn’t worked out the metrics (ugly word, that) of the whole shebang. In schools, performance, production and payoffs, the Three P’s, have eclipsed the old-fashioned Three R’s.

My criticisms here are not about the SW Parke initiative alone. They’re just part of the grinding, aimless wagon train heading down the digital ghost road. All agree it’s an “extremely exciting” trail. One student described the road ahead as “awesome,” or as she might put it in a Twitter composition, AWSM.

With this kind of momentum and with big money involved, few want to hear that the reliance on tech leads away from, not toward, student development in terms of comprehension in reading, attention to detail, development of effective memory skills, and the understanding and critical use of information (as opposed to mechanistic data retrieval and manipulation).

However, here is a reason to scream, to march, to move out of the SW Parke district if you have kids: “‘Books won’t completely go away,’ [Rachel] Porter [the district’s digital curriculum integration specialist] said. ‘We don’t feel it’s a best practice to say we’ll never use a book. But, we don’t want to be reliant on a static paper textbook, so we’re trying to get away from that.’”

I take umbrage with any and all who feel/think/state in public that a book (even a textbook) is “static paper.”

It’s true, you might not be able to wave your finger or a mouse across the page in a book and make that page do visual tricks. It’s also true that kids get real good at those tricks, real fast.

But what kids in and out of school need to do more of is to allow the power of reading to wash through their minds. Students of all kinds are best served when their powers of attention and patience are fostered and developed. Curiosity grows when sentences in books on “static paper” challenge young people.

There is a world beyond programmed apps and digitized data, white boards and e(non)Books. It’s a world of miraculous and lasting depth. The tech trail compromises and diminishes this world.

— Gary W. Daily

Terre Haute

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