“Go ahead kids! Choose a book!” she says enthusiastically to the class and then moves along to her next task. A crash of 5 year olds rush to the stacks. Some of them choose the first book their fingers touch, they clutch it to their chest and make their way to the checkout line. Others gravitate towards chapter books that are clearly far beyond their reading level but enticed by the colourful covers nonetheless. And then there are others, like my son, whom wanders aimlessly for ten minutes. Unsure what it is they are looking for.
Suddenly, it all made sense to me. Why my son was coming home week after week with these Star Wars early readers that were far beyond his reading ability and furthermore, to put it bluntly, poorly written mass-produced, merchandise. Not exactly what I would qualify as a library book meant to promote reading, literacy and a love for books.
Before I read the article A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute by Matt Richtel I would have said that not having a curriculum based heavily with technology was archaic and even a bit “hippy-trippy”. Something that “alternatives” embraced but definitely not me.
We are a screen family. T.V.s abound (although not permitted to be on more than an hour a day), a lap top computer that travels from room to room with as much frequency as any person in our home and my iPhone is practically an appendage. My kids don’t engage in a lot of “screen” time, but I certainly don’t discourage it or forbid it.
I had prepared to write an argument against this Waldorf ideology stating that it’s classist. The article cites annual tuitions upwards of $24,000, which is nearly half of the average household income in Canada. Not many people have the disposable income to send their child – let alone children – to such an educational institution. Furthermore, I am going to hypothesize that a family that has the means to pay for such an education, also has the monies available to purchase the latest in technological gadgetry when the moment strikes them that their child is “ready”.
The reality for many families is that without technology made available in schools, thousands, if not millions, of children in Canada would be without the opportunity to use and learn technology that has become a mainstay in our society.
I am going to leave those arguments alone. I still believe them to be true but after volunteering in my son’s class, and seeing first hand “library time”, I see things differently.
It seems that our public schools are so bogged down with curriculum expectations that many teachers feel burdened by the overwhelming amount of “stuff” to cover in a term. Shortly after my son’s library time was over (about 15 minutes), the class moved on to computer-time, which was a student-directed 15 minutes of playtime on an approved game.
Sadly, I didn’t see these children learning either skill set: computer or library. The teacher frantically moved from one station to the next, trying to log on users and fix snags (when there are 20 five-year-olds there are many!), sign-out the books and still be present with the class. A juggling act not meant for the weak.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a phenomenal teacher-librarian. Each class that passed through the doors was read to – from the littlest of JKs to the snarkiest of sixth graders.
She made it her mission to teach books to the kids. She introduced the students to styles and genres, explained how to navigate a library and what else a favourite author had penned. She was always quick to note which kids were falling into patterns and could encourage them to try something new. This woman would scour the shelves to find books that would entice even the most reluctant readers.
What she did was something that no computer or machine can do. She developed a strong foundation for those students to, if not love, appreciate reading and books.
A computer cannot teach our children the necessary skills of how to research, think critically and logically. A computer may be able to hone them or further define them but without face-to-face communication skills, what do we have? As Paul Thomas says in this article, “Teaching is a human experience…Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”
While I am not so sure that I feel “computers and schools don’t mix”, I am much more open to the idea of further limiting screen times (yes, the Smart Board too) and encouraging even more creative thinking, movement and human interaction in our classrooms and our homes.