Shiny-Sparkly Internet Thingie

Apparently our brilliant overlords think chucking social studies textbooks for, I dunno, Jetpunk geography quizzes and Wikipedia’d history is a great idea:

In a first for MNPS, the district opted not to purchase social studies textbooks this year when the time came to replace outdated versions every six years.

Instead, Metro administrators have asked teachers to use websites, interactive videos and primary resources as the main way to teach history, geography and other social studies topics. Though older textbooks will still be in classrooms, and teachers can use them as resources, they are no longer the central focus.

It’s a “digital classroom” these days, officials say, and teachers need flexibility to use curriculum not offered in the old-fashioned print textbook.

Ah yes, the “digital classroom,” that great beacon of our future. Last time I wrote about this in 2011, I linked to this New York Times piece about the failure of Arizona’s tech-intensive classrooms to actually educate:

Since 2005, scores in reading and math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen.

To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

Indeed. It bears remembering that the very people touting the “digital classroom” and education based on computer gimmicks tend to be the same people selling school districts the high-tech gadgetry in the first place. I’ve long suspected that a big part of this push is to basically advertise certain brands to kids, often at taxpayer expense — to create future customers for Microsoft and Apple, for instance, the same way tobacco companies reached kids with their Joe Camel campaign.

It’s also kinda bizarre that we’re going all-in on technology in the classroom on the one hand, while barely two weeks ago we were told how important it is to teach cursive handwriting in Tennessee’s schools. Weird.

But yes, DO remind me how the problem with Tennessee’s schools is teachers and teacher’s unions. I’m all ears.


Filed under education, Nashville, Tennessee

11 responses to “Shiny-Sparkly Internet Thingie

  1. Eric Taylor

    1. What about those too poor to have computers in their homes and do not know how to use keyboards?
    2. How are the parents who really want to help their kids be able to when there is there is no book to work from? Are the teachers to download all the Internet materials and make copies for each student? At what cost?
    3. When tests are weeks after a lesson, unless a child is a good note taker, what will they use to refresh what they were taught by the teacher?
    Am I being too simple with these questions?

    • Good questions. I think it’s hilarious that they’re wanting to teach cursive writing, yet ditching books. I understand the need to teach cursive — one teacher told me young people can’t read cursive letters written by their relatives anymore. It’s like when we look at something written in the olden days, when the letter “s” was written as the letter “f” etc. Future generations might not be able to read orignal documents, like the Declaration of Independence for example. Well … fine, but what about books? We’re OK with people losing study skills associated with things like books? It’s very strange. I’m not opposed to teaching with computers but I don’t think it should be at the expense of everything else.

  2. It will be alright if every student is armed. Cuz’ an armed society is a polite, articulate, informed and possessive of gooder handwriting skilz society!

  3. CB

    Having recently retired from higher education, I have a few observations.

    1. Teaching history from primary sources is easier now than it has ever been, most especially American history. That’s a good thing, and shouldn’t be left off until college.

    2. If they don’t have computers, either they or their friends have smartphones, which in many, many cases will suffice. Or, they can get actual work time in a lab, or the school’s library, if they haven’t axed that [yet]. Or, better yet, the school can set up an informal articulation agreement with the local public library. Many schools already share their homework assignments with the public libraries. So, even poor children aren’t without. They just can’t fool themselves into thinking that they can copy something off the interwebz at midnight before it’s due, and get away with it. Newsflash: kids in high school, especially, and some even younger, are going to turn to teh Googlz way sooner than they will a textbook, or other information sources. At least in this scenario, the teacher will have some control, and can set the parameters for what students can use, and how they can use it. It would be really, really great if they also used this as a learning experience for when and why to quote, when and how to paraphrase, and why documentation of ALL sources is important.

    3. Textbook publishers are like bankers. Some of them are good, and some are greedy bastards — as in, changing two sentences of text in the book, and then marketing it as a BRAND NEW EDITION, and withdrawing the older, cheaper, just as good edition from their catalog.

    This doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

    • I’m teaching now, albeit in a highly specialized field and many of my students have no internet access. I’m fine with using the resource in the classroom, even recognize the need, but not if it’s at the expense of everything else. (See NYT piece at link)

      • CB

        Ok. There we agree. My scenarios above are based on there being other resources, like qualified teachers, in the classrooms. I focused on the issue of social studies textbooks, as indicated in the initial article, and in that particular discipline, outdated materials are in fact often worse than none at all. And, good teachers can get around that.

        For the last two decades of my career, libraries have been told that they were becoming obsolete. As time progressed, and the reasons refuted or ignored, the assessment by bug-eyed university administrators was always the same. NOBODY READS AND WE DON’T NEED TO PAY YOU ANYMORE. And, accrediting agencies — at least in the south — went along with them, pretty much. Our major professional association, the American Library Association, loves to stick its nose into political issues, but never into those that actually might benefit their membership. I may have become inured to issues of hard copy vs. technology, because in the settings I’m most familiar with, technology always wins. Always.

      • Funny, I just gave my students a public library card application as an exercise today. They were all so excited. Nashville has a fabulous public library system, thanks to our last mayor (one of the few things he did right). Our library brings in internationally-renowned authors for readings, they’re standing room only. It’s the fulcrum of our “Nashville reads” program. And our kids’ library is amazing. I tutored a 6-year-old Turkish boy there once a week for 4 months, we got to really explore it. I think anyone who says libraries are obsolete and everything is being replaced by technology needs to visit Nashville’s library. Things only become obsolete by neglect.

        Everyone bemoans the fact that we don’t teach civics in the classroom anymore, that this is when people started getting ignorant in America (debatable, but whatever) and isn’t civics part of a social studies curriculum? The article also lumped geography and history in with “social studies.” American kids always rank among the lowest in the world for geographic literacy. I’d say we’re pretty ignorant of history too, looking at the Teanuts and idiots like Michelle Bachmann saying “the Founders worked tirelessly to eradicate slavery,” and some idiots believe that. But all we ever hear from policymakers is that what’s really wrong with our schools are teachers, teachers’ unions, and the need for vouchers. What kind of crap argument is that?

  4. Seeker

    I feel like I’m on the leading edge of this wave. In my family, we ended up homeschooling the oldest for high school because at 14 he was ready for college-level classes in some areas, but still needed high-school-level classes for others, and was too young to drive himself (we live in an area without public transportation). The public school system was completely unable to manage his transportation to the local college, so we used an accredited, online high school for those classes that needed to be high school, and both parents took early/late lunch hours to do the driving back and forth to the college.

    The online school started out brilliantly, with an actual hard-copy textbook for home use, plus well-organized and challenging online work. Then the program was bought out by a for-profit company and by the end, everything was online, and the content was dumbed-down and the teachers overworked.

    The college is going down the same path; several high-level math and science and humanities courses are now served by online content only–which still costs $150 and up just for a password to get to the online content!

    • Seeker

      Update; the child (now 18) registered for college and spent $600 on four “textbooks”–two online. What does he get for that money? A login code to sign in to an account to get information. The textbook situation is ridiculous when the books cost nearly as much as the classes.

  5. ThresherK

    This goes right up there with hospitals advertising “Use your smartphone to pre-check-in for our ER and skip the wait”: Semi-solution for a very few people to a problem the tool can’t possibly fix.