The Times reports from a Waldorf model private school in Silicon Valley, where the elementary school offspring of Google and Apple engineers are prevented from using cell phones, computers, and iPads, and instead encouraged to knit, bake, and write by hand.
I'm generally skeptical of technophilic education reform, since I believe curriculum and quality teaching are far more important than whizz-bang gadgetry. But I don't think technophobic classrooms would work nearly as well for a less priveleged student population. Consider this statement from Alan Eagle, a Waldorf parent and Google executive who brags that his fifth-grade daughter doesn't know how to perform a Google search.
“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”
While it's true that Googling a phrase, address, or phone number is simple, it isn't always easy or intuitive to interpret the results of a more complex search for information, whether you're looking for a good doctor, checking if your apartment is rent controlled, or researching a politician's record and platform. The Internet is filled with misinformation, as is talk radio, cable news, and just about every other media source with which Americans come into daily contact.
We know from the work of sociologist Annette Lareau that college-educated parents are typically very good at introducing their children to the practices of asking questions, challenging authorities, and expressing doubt. Many working-class parents, on the other hand, emphasize deference to authority, and while that skill can be helpful in certain situations, it may not inculcate skepticism toward media sources--especially when you consider that working class and poor children are also less likely to be regularly exposed at home to newspapers, magazines, books, computers, high-speed Internet, and smartphones.
Media and information literacy are incredibly important, both for our civic health--we need informed voters--and for people's day-to-day ability to use technology to find the info they want and need. That's why I was impressed with a 10th grade social studies lesson I observed last spring in Providence, R.I. Jennifer Geller taught her students to fact-check their textbook using Google, but also explained to them how to sift the wheat from the chaff online, by understanding how Google and Wikipedia are programmed.
We also know that women and minorities are grossly underepresented in computing jobs, and that early exposure to computers and video games is correlated with developing a professional interest in high-tech fields.
I'm all in favor of strictly limiting children's "screen time," both in and out of school. But given the frantic media culture our kids are exposed to from birth, it seems that young readers certainly should be learning the practices of smart, skeptical Internet use. I think the key is a balanced approach: an education that is neither technophobic nor technophilic.