Is the tablet the pill schools need?

101_0126Everyone wants to reform our public schools. Most of these folks are sincere, although billions of dollars can be made through the sale of electronic teaching devices. In the article I mentioned in my post, from the New York Times Magazine, Joel Klein reportedly states that the tablet can help customize the teaching experience and take advantage of students enthusiasm for gadgetry. This new pill will also help teachers who feel overwhelmed in the classroom.

Wait a second! It occurs to me that all of the reformers who are interjecting their pet projects into the classroom may be part of the problem. Things are always changing for the public school teacher and this leads to excessive paperwork and excessive time given to retraining. We’ve had the “Touchy- Feeley” movement, emphasizing self-esteem along with  attempts to toughen up the curriculum. The latest rendition being the common core. Now we have people pushing emotional intelligence, which seems to harken back to the self-esteem movement of the 1980s. Oh, and don’t forget reform 2000 and a number of other reform ideas that have been quickly interjected into the school system.. This reminds me of the old saying “Don’t sell your bread in the marketplace when it’s only half-baked.”  Unfortunately, the marketplace in this scenario is schoolchildren and teachers held captive by government ideology and the teachers unions.

So what’s wrong with the tablet as a new pill ? Plenty. In order to introduce this concept into the classroom, the school will need a great deal structure and good communications between teachers, administrators and students. School that already has these qualities doesn’t need to experiment with electronics. Kids need to learn to communicate with other students and with their teachers and to ponder over the materials they are learning.  Yes, customization helps, but the tablet is not necessary to achieve customization. Every good teacher identifies differences in students and customizes his or her teaching approach to each child.

True reform is found in training and selecting the best teachers and then giving them the freedom to work with their students’ educational needs.

Cyberbullying: What now?

In The Digital Pandemic, Reestablishing Face-to-Face Contact in the Electronic Age, I pointed out the dangers of cyberbullying. It’s not an epidemic, but when it leads to suicide, it’s a dreadful thing.

A 12-year-old girl in Lakeland, Florida killed herself because of cyberbullying. An article in the Tampa Bay times on Saturday, September 14, 2013 points out that cyber bullying is unique in two ways: persons will say worse things online than in a face-to-face situation and cyberbullying is difficult to escape from because of the wide use of social media.

What jumps out at me, however, is the fact that this girl’s parents were probably not aware of the degree of bullying that was taking place. Digital media gives youngsters  privacy from their parents that is difficult to penetrate and is unlike growing up in the pre-digital age. As I pointed out in the book, children are at the mercy of adult technicians and engineers when it comes to electronic games and are at the mercy of the peer abuse because their parents cannot intercede.

Teens and Internet: Helpmate or Pied Piper?

IMGP0483 Hicks kids and Dan 009The latest violation of the Developmental Principle comes in an article about Dana Boyd, Ph.D. (The New York Times, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012; “Cracking Teenagers’ Online Codes,” by Pamela Paul.)

Dr. Boyd is a 34-year-old anthropologist with a pierced tongue, an Elmo-decorated iPhone, and a Snow White laptop. She’s employed at Microsoft, and runs the research arm of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, an organization devoted to empowering youth.

According to a professor at NYU, Dr. Boyd is perfectly suited to study the teenage use of the Internet: “The single most important thing about Dana is that she’s the first anthropologist we’ve got who comes from the tribe she’s studying.”

Dr. Boyd believes there is much distress over the dangers young people face online. As a result, parents debate among themselves about whether to shut down certain websites, regulate online access, or otherwise tamper with the rich world of social media for children.

According to Dr. Boyd, we are not to worry. Children are reacting online largely to social changes that have taken place offline. Since children can’t roam freely as they used to, she believes the Internet offers an opportunity for relatively unsupervised social interaction.


Are Private Schools Bad for America?

102_0296In the Sunday, September 1, 2013. Tampa Bay Times newspaper, Allison Benedikt pleads with parents to keep their children in public schools.”You are a bad person if you send your children to private school.”

She believes there is more to education than what is taught in schools. Even if the courses are not well taught,the main benefit to public schools is mixing with children from all kinds of disparate backgrounds. She pleads with parents to use their own connections to power and money in order to innovate in their local school. She believes that aggressive PTAs can raise money for inrichment programs and get in the face of the administration if a teacher is falling down on the job.

While most parents seek the best teaching possible for their children, I have to agree  that other elements are important to child development.. I believe parents often send their children to private schools because of these other elements: One of them is safety and another is that parents want their children exposed to mainstream American values. They perceive the public schools as emphasizing secular humanism at the expense of core family and religious values.

As far as parents using their own connections to power and money to help their local public school, this common practice has worked all too well, resulting in what I call “private – public schools” for the wealthy and mediocre and poor public schools for those from disadvantaged areas.

Parents also see public schools as experimenting with new programs every few years. rather than sticking to the tried-and-true basics. The role of the private schools used to be that of innovation and experimentation, while public schools taught a standard, core curriculum. This seems to have changed. Parents are not comfortable with a constantly changing curriculum that is inspired by secular and politically correct values.  They want a safe inviorment and a culture that is consistent with family values .

Yes, Ms. Benedikt, there is more to education than academics — and that seems to be the problem with government schools .


Should We Take Credit for Charitable Giving?

100_0060Does identifying areas of the brain that are activated by certain feelings or actions give us more insight into human behavior? And if a behavior seems to reside in an area of the brain does this mean the brain is hard-wired for that behavior and we humans are not exercising free will when we make choices?

I don’t think so, but the media keeps churning out articles implying that a person’s choice to behave in a certain way is really no choice at all, but rather is the result of brain hard-wiring. This presents us with a cause-and-effect dilemma: Does a hard-wired brain cause us to behave in a certain fashion or is our behavior independent of brain localization?

One good example of this cause-and-effect dilemma is found in an article by Elizabeth Svoboda in The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday August 31 – September 1, 2013 titled Hard-Wired for Giving. The headline states that scientists have identified the precise brain circuits behind our urge to give, and this helps us to understand the motivation for Giving behavior. There is a clear implication here that the brain is in control and humans are willy-nilly following directions from the brain, which is calling the shots, so to speak

So if we are hardwired for generosity does this mean our individual choices to give money to charities or do volunteer work are not choices at all? Are we merely responding to brain hard-wiring, even if this charitable urge contradicts the Darwinian theory of survival of fittest?

While this research is interesting, and the ability to localize and pinpoint areas of the brain that are activated by certain behaviors may be helpful in medicine and rehabilitation, I don’t think this gives evidence that free will does not exist and that man is bound by brain hard-wiring. In the first place, we have discovered over the past 30 years that the brain is, in fact, soft-wired. It is plastic and changes in response to repetitious behaviors. Our choices and behaviors can cause areas of the brain to expand or become more robust.

This is why I have concern about the overexposure of young children to various electronic games. Repeated exposure and resulting behavior can influence brain function so that children playing aggressive games exhibit more aggressiveness, at least in research studies. But it also means that children who are taught to “Do onto others as others as you would have them do onto you” by volunteering and giving to charities, will increase brain capacity for giving and helping others.

Yes, Giving behavior makes people feel good. And why shouldn’t it? People are complex organisms. There are many reasons and motivations for giving. Some people give because they believe it is an important value, while others may give because of peer pressure, prestige ––  or because they need a tax deduction!