Betty Duffy

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Maybe I'll die alone on this hill, but computers for kids are a bad idea

Today I am incensed, which is a funny word to mean angry, since I associate it with thuribles and sweet smells rising to Heaven.

It was pre-school open house this morning, and I've never, ever started a child in pre-school this early--three years old. The older kids didn't start school till Kindergarten. I'm not sure what made me think this was a good idea. Lured by the two mornings a week I'd be able to exercise, plan appointments, write without interruption, just be alone.

But I discovered this morning that the three-year-olds (and the four-year-olds, of course), USE IPADS!!!!!!!


Maybe it went over my head in the promotional materials, all the "letters, play time and fine motor skills" they'd be learning, and the parent app where you can watch your child's progress. I thought, oh no, that's just the teachers uploading their finger-painting... It showed a book icon and said something about keeping a journal--both of which were apparently figurative.

How often do they use them?

"Well, it's a "station" they rotate into, but I can hold your daughter out of that station unless it becomes a problem and she feels left out, or you change your mind. Sometimes kids who need help focusing use them in the morning as well."

Is there any three-year-old on the planet who does not "need help focusing?" And have you ever been in a room with an iPad where every child in the room wasn't hovering around it, jockeying for a better view?

This is a Catholic school, which --my children unanimously voted--has the worst library in town (And we've attended four different schools, plus the public library).  It's volunteer staffed and donation only, but somehow the school has funds to put iPads in the hands of three-year-olds.

In June, when the kids were released for the summer, my husband and I bought a lock box and put all the tech in the house in the box to be "checked out" only with permission. Our hopes were that the kids would have a normal summer, riding their bikes, digging in the dirt, calling friends, just being horribly, horribly bored.

Of course, in their boredom, over the course of several weeks, they:

  • Stole the key to the lock
  • Jimmied the box
  • An finally, cut the lock

We had no choice but to evacuate the computers completely from the house. My husband put them in the trunk of his car, and took them with him to work.

Here's the thing about people (not just kids): they always increase the intensity of their rebellion right before they concede. If you can bear the worst kind of acting out, the worst tantrum, the worst stonewalling, name calling, etc.-- there is peace on the other side.

When the kids realized, without a doubt, they weren't going to get what they wanted, they dug in and made the best with what they had. Which happened to be nerf guns, matchbox cars, books and bicycles.

Really, after the first couple weeks, I think we had the best summer of our lives. My oldest, who is fifteen, spent his "lame" summer doing nerf gun modifications, custom spray painting, re-wiring, making his own nerf darts out of foam pipe insulation and hot glue. When he needed tools, he rode his bike to the hardware store himself. Learned more electrical information than in a year of engineering tech class (incidentally spent on screens).

I even talked to the engineering tech teacher, and was like, "I thought this was more of a shop class, where they'd be doing hands on work with tools and machines."

And he was weary, completely weary: "Yes, I used to teach a lot more of that," he said, "but the standards have changed. The tech is online. You can't even begin a project until you to know CAD." Forget the drafting table. Forget the math.

Which, speaking of math, my fourteen-year-old completely faked Algebra for half a year, because the whole class was online. He used Mathway ("an exceptionally smart calculator"--he said), which allows you to plug in any math problem on earth and get an answer.

At the semester exam, the first time they used paper and pencil to assess student knowledge, it became clear that my son had acquired no skill in Algebra in five months.

"We're not raising thinkers anymore,"--this from the AP Biology teacher, who also shrugged his shoulders, helplessly.

There's just no other way to steer this sinking ship. The parents, the employers, the test writers and curriculum developers, all demand: start the tech AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. And be sure to solve every problem you encounter with more tech.

"Drill these things into your children, day and night, when you are home or away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead." (Dt 6:7-8)


Don't put your kid in the dumb pre-school class, even though you've pre-paid. Maybe they can use her tuition to buy some books for their stupid library.

It only took most of the summer to surrender, but the kids finally played in the dirt.


Jamie said...

Hm, I thought I left you a comment that said PREACH IT, but it seems to have been eaten. Whether or not it surfaces, you can be certain that you're not alone on your hill.

Jenny said...

You are not alone. NOT ALONE. However we might be a dying breed. I've had many arguments over this and I'm usually on the losing side. Somehow I managed to major in redacted computer science without preschool tech, but kids today are probably different. At our local elementary, we lost our music class so the kids could take typing so they could prepare for their standardized testing. Not even joking.

Anonymous said...

I've always had better luck with protestant affiliated preschools. Also, some of the recreational centers run by the cities have some preschool offerings around here that seem
pretty good.

BettyDuffy said...

You're right anonymous. The Rec center has a great preschool here in town. My fourth and fifth kids went to the 4K there. The benefit of the Catholic preschool this year is that she could be in the same school with her brothers. The kids are in three different schools as it is. I couldn't bring myself to add a fourth school to the mix.

Jenny--I agree. I don't think kids today are different than they ever were. It's the technology that changes so fast--it's not like the kids will be "behind" if they have a later technological debut.

Julia said...

I am on that hill with you.

Tom S. said...

All of what you say is the truth - God help Us. Truer words were never spoken than "We're not raising thinkers anymore".

I teach engineering part-time at our local community college, and I can tell you without question that the thinking-through-a-problem mindset that was ubiquitous just 5 years ago is gone, g-o-n-e, form the ± 25 and under student population. Simple problems, requiring a little analytical thought, which I gave for years suddenly have become insurmountable. I have been forced to change everything about the way I teach and what to expect of the students because they just can't THINK, and if they can't plug data into a (pre-existing) spreadsheet and get an answer, they are lost. Worse yet, they don't even try! They'll sit there and stare at a blank sheet of paper for 30 minutes. It breaks my heart to know that our future is in their hands.

MDiskin said...

Not afraid to die on that hill with you. We've pulled back to 30 mins a day but they still go nuts after screens close down. It's just awful. We've had some screen-free weeks at home and they've been lovely (and messy -- lots of crafting and building happens).

Our local elementary school had boatloads of iPad racks and other tech, but instituted silent lunch because, they said, they didn't have enough money to have a teacher or person in the lunchroom to keep the kids safe. And if you talk at lunch, you get to run laps during recess, or have no recess. 200 parents signed my petition to ditch silent lunch, and we offered to man the lunchroom ourselves, help out teachers in other areas to free them up to man lunch on a rotating schedule once a month, and write grants to free up any money needed. They refused to change. A bunch of us left.

We're now at a Charlotte Mason school that has half days up into 3rd grade, long lunches outside, and recess and PE as well as all the fun stuff like art and music that other schools have dropped. No tech at our school, at all, unless you count a PC for each teacher. It's the best place ever. Ever.