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!!!!!!!

PRE-SCHOOL 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)

....OR....DON'T.

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.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A blogger reflects...

Write every day. I agree. I want to write every day. I keep thinking I'm going to light up one of my old blogs again, was thinking of doing scripture meditation or something, not because I'm especially insightful, but because I want to devote time to meditation. I want to devote time to writing in general, which I haven't been doing at all.

It's been restful. And other things besides writing have been interesting. I suppose the cat's all out of the bag to my family now that I've been playing cello and banjo in a Grateful Dead cover band. I don't have much more to say about that other than It Is SOOO fun!

I did always think I'd come back to music--that a lot of writing over the past decade was a function of being home with toddlers and that as soon as I could blow this joint (you know, for a few hours at a time) I probably would.

 I now have two, almost three teenagers in the house. My oldest gets his driver's license this year. This summer has been quite wonderful, because I both enjoy being home with them all, and can also pop out on my own if I need to go to the grocery, or for a jog (or to band practice!).

My youngest starts preschool this month and for the first time in fifteen years, I will have actual hours of the week where no one is in the house but me. I don't know whether to rejoice or panic.

So...I suppose it's time to cast around again for an identity:


  • What do you call a forty something stay at home mom, who has no kids left at home during the day? 
  • What if she now thinks she's a musician in a hippy band, while also being a blogger who meditates on scripture? 
  • Does she maybe need to grow up and get a real job? 
  • And if so, why--presuming her husband's job meets the financial needs of the family? 
  • Is it ok for her to blog if she is privileged, and spends most of her life in pursuit of frivolous  artsy-fartsy things? 
  • Is it ok for her to blog if she has nothing profound to say to the many dreadful cultural concerns of the day, and accidentally posts something shallow on the same day as a terrorist attack? 
  • Is it ok for her to like life pretty well, and to have no messy, messy, complicated, personal/spiritual problems to discuss online? 
  • Would you really want to read what this woman has to say about anything, much less about Jesus?
  • AND! What if she perpetually disregards blogging best practices by posting irregularly, using boring titles, omitting pictures, and failing to promote her blog on social media?

These are questions I'm asking myself.

Until I have answers, here's a post I wrote at Image a couple weeks ago.