The Pull of the Pod

A mother complained that her daughter wants to watch TV in the morning if there is time before leaving for school.  The problem is that if she is allowed to do that it then becomes an issue when it is time to leave.  One thing that can divert her from the TV request is mom allowing her to use an app on her phone that has an “educational” game.  This is a familiar story from many parents.

I also heard about an older child who was staying up late following social media instead of doing her homework and going to bed on time.  For this girl, her ability to talk to her peers about the latest celebrity gossip seemed to be her way of becoming part of a social circle in school.

Currently, there is much conversation and controversy about the prevalence of smart phones with texting, games and many other apps that draw children’s attention and increasingly have interrupted meaningful social interaction.  Parents and children alike seem to be engaged in relationships with their phones rather than with each other.  The examples above brought to mind a recent article about Steve Jobs and the numerous films and books about him gaining attention.

In attempting to explain the widespread grief following Job’s death, a sociologist suggests that people’s feelings had less to do with the man or even the products themselves but rather was about the relationship between those products and their owners; a relationship so basic and immediate that it turned the computer into an extension of oneself.  This seems like an apt description when observing people so engrossed with their phones that they seem to shut out the world around them.  As a pedestrian these days, one has to be alert not to be bumped into by a walker on a phone unaware of others.

At the same time, there is considerable attention focused now on the need to make computers and internet connections more widely available in schools and communities that still lag behind.  The point being made is the educational importance of such access, particularly with regard to achieving success in today’s world.  Parents make sacrifices in order to provide their children with the latest technological devices.

This is all in keeping with the push in early childhood education for the teaching of letters and numbers, and in general moving toward a more academic curriculum at earlier and earlier ages.  Right now there is starting to be pushback against the focus on academics to the exclusion of physical activity, music and art.  Parents and educators alike have protested the degree of homework and testing, and the pressure placed on children from early grades on.

The conflict revolves around which is more important, intellectual and academic achievement or the overall development of children, particularly social and emotional development.  This seems to suggest that one or the other must have priority rather than thinking about how to provide a balance between the two.

Part of the problem is in the way education is defined.  Many experiences are educational besides those considered important academically.  This time of year many Christmas trees are put out on the street for garbage collection.  Some park conservancies collect the trees for mulching, then to be used to protect trees and shrubs over the winter season.  In one park there was a huge truck with mulching equipment.   Workers loaded the trees that the machinery ground and the chips piled up in the truck.

At different spots were individual parents and children watching this process in rapt attention.  It is easy to imagine the kind of learning in many subjects that was coming out of this experience.  There was not a phone in sight – although undoubtedly the older children might later google additional information wanted and provoked by what they had seen.

Such educational experiences abound in children’s lives.  For young children in particular, these experiences provide the real world input they need to counteract a withdrawal into the word of technology.