Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Universal Access to Laptops?

by Olga LaPlante

I happen to have a friend staying in Thailand at the moment, and working at an international school. International also implies private, or not free.
When we talk about China, or Asia (which would then include Thailand), do we somehow have this stereotype that those kids are well-educated, successful and pose a serious threat to US job-seekers? It will be safe to say yes.

Now, last time we spoke (on Skype, of course), he said (he teaches French), that he has a small class, they are all A students. They say, "That's all???" after he assigns homework, quite disappointed... He said that they might enjoy joining Alliance Francaise, and they did to take a course. It's middle school students by the way.

Now, my question was - to my friend's son who is a high school student now - do you have laptops? He said - no, we have like 4 computers in the lab/library.

Does this tell you anything? Can US schooling be in the large part a product of the culture, rather than limited resources, poverty, ESL students etc.?



Jim Burke said...

This reminds me of the old stand-by:

"you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."

or the variation:

"You can lead a man to knowledge, but you can't make him think."

The question seems to be:

Why does it seem that there is so much apathy in our culture, and in turn, our schools?

What is going on?

Ed Latham said...

Television has helped to create a passive generation. This generation believes everything should be available with very little effort just like changing the channel or in drastic cases calling up another cable company. People expect to be entertained somehow in those hundreds of channels that most now have constant access to.

This same generation is in schools now and some of us in an older generation see tons of apathy. These students are coming into an environment that:
1. does not allow for choices (switching channels)
2. frequently does not have high priced entertainers
3. they can not turn off the "program" nor can they adjust the volume
4. they can not change providers
5. provides content in a steady streams of 45 or 80 minute blocks with usually a few minutes to actually engage in active interaction

School can not keep up with a culture of students that have been trained/brainwashed to sit back and enjoy. Students expect that education is done to them now.

One of the definitions of apathy is "lack of interest in or concern for things that others find moving or exciting." Try this as an experiment in your home this Saturday...

1. Set a kitchen timer for 45 minutes and turn on your TV and get to a random station (close your eyes with no volume and just wail on that channel changer for a few min). Open your eyes and turn up the volume and put the remote on the TV. Now sit in one seat for 45 min.
2. When the timer dings get up and go to bathroom or kitchen to get away for only 3-5 min.
3. Return to your seat and sit for another 45 minutes without touching the remote at all.
4. Repeat until you are crazy or fall asleep

How much apathy would you have after 6 hours of this every day?

Jim, you bring up the apathy in our culture and in our schools. It all comes down to an expectation that people deserve to get what they want with little effort. This expectation has been firmly entrenched during the television generation. Heck we even had products developed in the late 80s to help us find our remote controls to "make our life easier".

So if TV is to blame, and it is a major factor in my opinion, I wonder if the constant use of the Internet is a better situation. One could argue that the Internet at least forces the user to seek out content or entertainment. The mind is more engaged in making choices and at least the fingers get a work out (until carpal tunnel sets in). I would caution that Internet services are adapting at an alarming rate to perpetuate that passiveness in our culture. Google has that "Do you feel lucky" button for those too lazy to have to actually read through some options. Amazon sends me email every month trying to tell me things I am interested in. My browser allows me to remember every little things I found amusing at one time or another and services like del.ic.ous help me out by allowing my friends to help me figure out what I may want to check out. Sure the Internet is full of tons of information and "things". In my mind, finding those nuggets is a cool adventure, but I see the Internet slowly starting to go the way of the Television. Corporations are investing more and more time and money in order to establish their niche in what is becoming a more prevalent source of entertainment. In case you have been in a cave lately, Halo 3 was recently released and broke sales records for every entertainment medium in history including movies and television. This video game allows players to interact in violent ways with people all over the world in an addictive medium that promotes teamwork, as long as the team is working to kill other teams. Is it interactive, yes. Is it engaging, yes. It is popular with many generations all the way up to people in their 50s. In essence the games and entertainment value of the Internet is expanding and our culture is embracing that at an increasing rate.

The chance to capture a population and help increase interest or motivation exists. Unfortunately, control of who is providing the content that attracts the most people will dominate the landscape much like television commercials heavily mixed with humor or sex are highly successful.

We get kids for 6 hours a day with the task/chore/pleasure of presenting meaningful "stuff". Teachers have the opportunity to drastically influence the next generation. We have competition from television and the Internet. Television dropped the ball in being able to positively transform society, and the Internet is starting to follow form. So how does education compete and still maintain it's very worthwhile purpose? Outside of school, students are being entertained by others and for the most part, are satisfied with the goods being presented. We don't want education to be a passive activity. Teachers and administrators are part of the apathetic culture you refer to and as such many may find it difficult to compete. Those that persist and take on the challenges of competing with the passive lives of television are the truly great people that all of our educational hopes fall to.

Jim Burke said...

Ed . . . I think you have at least one book in you!

Thought-provoking stuff.

See lulu.com :)

I would be interested in what everyone else has to say about Ed's analysis.