Much of my teaching involves new forms of digital media for communication, connection, and creativity. This work is grounded solidly in my commitments to ensuring that all children learn the cultural forms that will enable them to fully participate in public life as advocates, learners, and citizens. As a culture, and as educators, we still have an enormous amount to learn about the rapid changes in digital culture, and at least some of what we have to learn is about how to bridge growing digital divides between low-income children (who, in school, are most likely to be using computers for skill and drill practice or testing) and more privileged peers (who are more likely to use computers for creation and self-directed pursuit of informal learning around personal interests).
A few weeks ago, a social justice organization that I respect greatly posted a link to an awful essay on children and digital media. I hate to even include the link here because “clicks” count in generating audience for yet more of this sort of nonsense. Chris Rowan, the author of the essay, misses the very basic lesson of Statistics 101 and continually conflates things happening together as technology *causing* everything from autism (which she labels a mental illness) to violence to obesity. The studies she cites (while claiming to be doing a literature review, which would have required that she actually critique, not just list the studies) are almost laughably flawed. She claims in comments that children who use technology won’t develop social relationships. Elsewhere on her website (where she sells $1000s worth books and workshops to cure the problems she claims are created by technology) she laments that teachers no longer teach hours of handwriting a week, as this is the only way that children will become literate.
Yet this social justice organization posted this link on Facebook, noting that the article that “has important implications for teachers and parents”. And on Facebook, 234 followers of this social justice organization “liked” the post and 135 shared the article with their Facebook friends. “Great to know”, they wrote. “Food for Thought” wrote others.
Commenters insisted that instead of using technology, children should be outside playing free, as if one precludes the other.
As if all children live in neighborhoods where it’s safe to run free, or that parents are free to usher their children around to play dates in the wild.
They insist that instead of watching TV or playing with tablets (two very different experiences that they didn’t bother to distinguish), they should be spending time on parents’ laps reading. As if one precludes the other.
As if all parents have time to snuggle with their children over books for hours each day, and all children might happily play with retro-wooden toys while their parents cook organic dinners from scratch.
Today, I read a very different report. The Cooney Center, which does actual credible research on how children use media, finds that lower income children are significantly more likely to use educational media on digital devices than wealthier peers. Barbara Ray, the author of this essay, asks, appropriately I believe, whether the very broad backlash against “screen time” as evidenced in the Facebook comments around Rowan’s essay is part of elite parents’ snobbish views of television (and now other screens) and their judgments of low-income parents.
We have an enormous amount to learn about these new shifts in digital technologies.
All of those socially-just readers who “liked” and shared Chris Rowan’s essay seem to simply assume that their ways of parenting are inherently superior, and that poor parents trying to find ways to provide their children with educational opportunities within the geographic and and economic constraints of their lives are misguided.
Even though those socially-just readers missed completely the lack of evidence, the faulty logic, and the self-interest running through the entire Rowan essay.
Update: More refuting the “research” in this essay, pointing out what others (but not the social justice organization) saw just by looking at the actual studies.