Category Archives: Inside Ed School

Random experiences and thoughts as I pursue my M.Ed. in Adolescent Education-English at the Hunter College School of Education, CUNY

Dog Bites Man

Yesterday’s New York Times has a story questioning the effectiveness of widely deploying technology in the classroom.

Matt Richtel writes:

In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning…

The spending push comes as schools face tough financial choices. In Kyrene [Kyrene, Arizona the town featured in the story], for example, even as technology spending has grown, the rest of the district’s budget has shrunk, leading to bigger classes and fewer periods of music, art and physical education.

In his lede, Richtel describes the typical day in class:

They’re studying Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” — but not in any traditional way.  In this technology-centric classroom, students are bent over laptops, some blogging or building Facebook pages from the perspective of Shakespeare’s characters. One student compiles a song list from the Internet, picking a tune by the rapper Kanye West to express the emotions of Shakespeare’s lovelorn Silvius.

There are moments, listening to my fellow ed school enrollees, when it seems their enthusiasm is reserved for anything but reading and writing. And technology is the flavor of the week. A student turns in a short paper full of spelling and grammar errors and gets a C. He puts the same text up in front of the class as a PowerPoint presentation accompanied by a couple of pieces of pirated clip art — I’ve seen this happen — and he’s a brilliant “visual learner.”

Last semester, seniors at the school where I was tutoring and observing were reading Shakespeare’s Richard III. The provided book had facing page “translations” of the Elizabethan English. When I asked, I discovered that not a single student — even the best students — was actually reading the play in the original.  All this talk about the so-called benefits of technology in the classroom is just another crutch, potentially as destructive as those facing-page translations. Here we are, faced with a rich, possibly difficult text, and rather than actually read, discuss and analyze together as a class — which has always presented a challenge to teachers in crowded classrooms. a problem only exacerbated when major budget dollars are expended on technology — let’s all get out our smartphones! Let’s spend some class time searching through our iTunes for a sad song! Let’s draw some comics! Let’s break up into small groups and search for pictures of the British Midlands! And when we’re all done, we can project your work on our cool, new Smartboard! Ridiculous.

Look. I have nothing against technology. Every student should have access to free or cheap broadband Internet, preferably at home as well as at a library. And I’m completely agnostic as to platform — hey that Smartphone’s great! I certainly believe classrooms benefit from having Internet access the same way they benefit from having dictionaries and other correct reference materials.

But count me in the camp that sees Smartphones and WiFi as the bane of a teacher’s existence. Ever try to get a student to stop texting? It’s like trying to get a treat back from your dog. Every student has a smartphone with them, even if they don’t have a pen. Getting them to look up from their screens is a Sisyphian task. Texting and Internet browsing, believe me, is no less distracting in the classroom than it is while driving — and injunctions against equally useless.

“In a nutshell,” personally, I do see this as almost a dog-bites-man style proposition. Students are having trouble reading and writing? Let’s give them the Internet and let them figure it out on their own! And keeping them in front of those screens, we can get rid of some more teachers! Does that make sense to you? Give me ten students, ten books, ten sheets of paper and ten pens, and by the end of the year I’ll put you and your $25,000 “smartboard” to shame.

Grading the Digital School

In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores

Published: September 3, 2011

Inside Ed School

The American “education system,” not just the public school system, is a total mess. Public school systems are being systematically de-funded, while the cost of attending private schools or universities rises faster even than health care. There is an ideological war of all against all pertaining to how to fix American education in which some occasionally gain the upper hand and impose their ideologies wholesale across entire school systems, as has happened most recently in Washington, DC and Atlanta, Georgia, and as the disastrous effects reveal themselves, are abandoned wholesale for some other program. Children should be taught only grammar — or no grammar at all. They should learn to read through phonics only, or by sight only. And we continue to deceive ourselves that people with little, or seriously stunted, intellectual curiosity will — if exposed to enough numbing instruction in the pseudo-psychology of pedagogy, the subtleties of classroom discipline and the latest neo-Fordist time management techniques — become marvelous teachers who miraculously cultivate in children and adolescents (who, let’s admit, left to their own “devices” (so to speak) would rather be toying with their cell phones and genitals) a lifelong devotion to learning and the pursuit of the good bourgeois life.

So why bother? I suppose because I care. I suppose because, even with my limited “training,” I’ve seen the light go on in a previously uninterested teen’s eyes. Not a miracle, but the same light that one sees in the midst of a good, fascinating conversation, which, at this time and in lieu of some more sophisticated “theory,” I personally take as the ground of all real and successful education. And because I’m a blowhard and an auto-didact, enjoy a receptive (if captive) audience as much as anybody, and because I believe that the canon of American literature (as it evolves) not only must be saved, but only can save us.

So I hope to share some insights and absurdities here — inasmuch as teacher education is a substantial part of the ongoing debate about education qua education — from my own ongoing experiences in Ed School. We’ll see how this project proceeds as papers come due and client work piles up over the course of the next few months.