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BFTP: The danger of irrelevance 

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post December 10, 2008.

For those like Bob Herbert who fear that the young are amusing themselves to death, they are both right and wrong. For at least six hours a day, they’re not amused or even interested. For the other 12 hours, young people I know spend hours becoming experts at those parts of the world they find interesting. The two worlds rarely intersect and the young get precious little guidance and shared input from adult experts about the world they are fascinated by. What’s wrong with schools, and with the ways we measure them, is that we are ignoring what young people’s “interested minds” could accomplish if we re-examined this puzzle together. Deborah Meier, Unexpected Side Effects of the Best Intentions, Education Week. Dec 4, 2008.

I've said for many years that today's kids like to learn. They just don't like how we oldies like to teach.

Children's and especially young adults' loss of "guidance and shared input from adult experts" is my biggest fear in watching an increasing number of students turn away from an irrelevant school system and toward peers, the media, and Google. I was horrified when my grandson, an already excellent reader, was being required to read all the dumbed-down and dull basals to meet a district requirement in his public elementary school. Such idiocy meant he may have not just been turned off reading, but turned off school completely.

In response to the misperception that kids know more about technology than their teachers do, I wrote a column called "Old Folks and Technology" some years ago. This was the meat of the piece:

We need to help make sure our students not only know how to use these new electronic marvels, but use them well. A short list of tools is below with some of the sensibilities about their use with which we geezers can still help: 

Some technologies -> Some things with which old people can still help
Spreadsheets Math sense, numeracy, efficiency in design
Charting and graphing software Selecting the right graph for the right purpose
Database design End user consideration, making valid data-driven decisions
Word processing The writing process, organization, editing, grammar, style
Presentation software Speaking skills, graphic design, organization, clarity
Web-page design Design, writing skills, ethical information distribution
Online research Citation of sources, designing good questions, checking validity of data, understanding biases
Video-editing Storyboarding, copyright issues when using film clips and audio
Chat room use/Instant messaging Safety, courtesy, time management

No matter how sophisticated the N-Geners are technologically, in matters of ethics, aesthetics, veracity, and other important judgments, they are, after all, still green. By virtue of our training and life experiences, we can apply the standards of older technologies (the pencil, the podium, the book) to those which are now technology enhanced. And we’d better. Given the choice of having Socrates or Bill Gates as a teacher, I know which one I'd choose.

I like to think that today's young people still need us old people called teachers. Our perceived irrelevance is not in their best interest.


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Reader Comments (2)

Hi Doug,

Appreciate your nice post.

As a tie-in to your thoughts, perhaps another way to look at being relevant to students is to consider that teachers should be experts in guiding students to understand the "why" and students, at least with tech skills they bring to school, supply much, but perhaps not all of the "how."

For example, why you would use a spreadsheet and its graphing functions to develop answers to a problem; why you would use presentation software to inform, entertain or persuade others; why you should consider your audience or end user when designing a database, etc.

As you indicate, we have obligation to teach both, and this is a helpful mnemonic, at least for me.



January 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Dyer

Hi John,

I am embarrassed that I did not make this "why" aspect a key point. I've found that after 30 years in education, it's the teacher who can create relevance is critical.

I really appreciate the comment.



January 5, 2014 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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