Renee Hobbes, a professor at Temple University, writes an opinion piece in today’s Inquirer about a recent study that shows that kids where a computer has been introduced into the home actually lost ground in reading and math skills. I agree with most of what she says, which boils down to what a lot of us in the educational technology field have been saying for years: access to the technology does not automatically make kids smarter. We’ve spent a long while debunking the myth that kids today are Digital Natives who automatically know how to assess information online and then remix it into their own fabulous creations. Unfortunately the “digital native” voices are the ones that were louder, or were the ones that were picked up by the media. It’s a much easier story to say we old people are clueless about technology and these young people are going to save the world with the techno-knowledge. It was also easier for schools to pop in computer labs and smartboards and institute laptop programs without considering what to do with them. At least they could say they put the technology into kids’ hands.
So I agree with her on that point and her criticism of schools for not addressing critical thinking skills when it comes to technology. There are exceptions to that, of course, but until recently, many schools added technology fairly blindly. What I take most issue with is her characterization of parents. Early in the piece, she says this of mothers (not dads, notice, but moms):
THESE days, the “soccer mom” has long been replaced by the “techno mom” who buys a Leapfrog electronic toy for her baby; lap-surfs with her toddler; has a Wii, Xbox and PlayStation for the kids; puts the spare TV in the child’s bedroom; sets her child down for hours at a time to use addictive social media like Webkinz and Club Penguin; and buys a laptop for her preteen so she won’t have to share her own computer.
This pisses me off, quite frankly. We had electronic toys for our kids fairly early on. And yes, we have a Wii and a Playstation, but I bought the Playstation originally for me, not my kids, thank you very much. There’s no TV in either of the kids rooms or computer either, and there never will be. Our kids have played online games, yes and yes, my son has his own computer. Because I have to do work on my computer, actual work, and he has homework that has to be done, and yes, he uses Facebook and plays online games, etc. Yes, we could share. In fact, we tried that model, but it didn’t really work for us. I suppose we could have pushed Geeky Boy into something that had nothing to do with computers, and that would have been fine, but it would have cut off his social life. We limit our kids online activities. We’re not perfect about it, but we do our best to help our kids balance their computer activities with sports, reading, and other interests. Quite frankly, most of the parents I know a) don’t have as much technology in their house as we do and b) also severely limit their kids’ online activities. For good or ill, most of the parents I’m around (which I realize is very class-specific), bought into the media fear-mongering long ago and have gone into the other direction of being fairly restrictive about computer activities. There are certainly kids I know of who are online constantly, mostly not because their mom is too busy blogging or facebooking to pay attention, but because their mom is working long hours. So I take issue with this new stereotype.
Hobbes continues this characterization toward the end by saying, “Unfortunately, many parents are too distracted with their “constantly connected” life to pay much attention to how the computer is used at home.” Again, most parents I know aren’t “constantly connected.” I can barely find moms on Facebook. Most parents who are distracted are distracted by work. While some see that as a negative thing, in this economy, many people can’t afford not to stay connected to work.
I think it’s a good idea to point out to educators and parents that just putting a computer in the house or classroom isn’t going to magically transform a kid. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to degrade parents and educators for “not paying attention.” Many are paying attention and we should help those that aren’t, rather than making them feel like bad people.