Disturbed and Angry and Sickened

sad face.gifWhat a title, right? Well, I just went through all of those emotions when I read this February 10th article from the Washington Post titled, A School That’s Too High on Gizmos. What can I say… you have to read it to see if you experience the same emotions. In a nutshell, it describes the teachers’ and students’ experiences in a very high-tech school in Alexandria… and most of what is reported is not good. Imagine – a new building, state-of-the art, all of the technologies anyone could want (and it turns out more than most want), and teachers who are disillusioned, turned off, and frustrated. Students who are recognizing technology for technology’s sake. The term used is “administrative technolust” –

“a disorder affecting publicity-obsessed school administrators nationwide that manifests itself in an insatiable need to acquire the latest, fastest, most exotic computer gadgets, whether teachers and students need them or want them.”

Teachers being told that they cannot use more traditional technologies (i.e. overhead projectors, chalkboards…). Technical problems continually interrupting learning. The mourning of face2face socialization and increased depersonalization. I love this one quotation from a student who admits that his favorite teacher

“isn’t into all this computer stuff. All he uses is the board — the whole board. He’s lively, energetic, witty and really knows his math. He forces you to pay attention; you can’t drift off even if you want to.”

I love that. It brings a balance to the conversation about 21st century teaching – that good teaching must precede effective technology use.

Now, there are so many issues to address in all of this – technology before training, unsupported infrastructure, mandated teaching styles, mandated tools, lack of mentorship, technology for technology’s sake, technology as magic bullet, technology diversion, poor leadership, and more… I think this might be the first article that I have read that includes so many illustrations of poor technology implementation. It also brings some insights into the great conversations that happened over on Scott McLeod’s blog Dangerously Irrelevant and Pete Reilly’s blog, Ed Tech Journeys, about whether technology should be mandated or not. And, in all fairness, it is one highly publicized article that I am sure does not capture the situation in a totally unbiased and objective manner.

Anyway, read it for yourself. How did it make you feel? Let me know.

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4 Comments on “Disturbed and Angry and Sickened”


  1. I too found the article addressing so many different problems that it was hard to respond to(though I tried in the comments!)

    What makes me the most sad is that too often the media give this sort of commentary the forum, while not promoting articles about the tremendously positive things going on in schools.

    Sheryl Nussbaum Beach has a terrific post today on 21st century Collaborative about what is right with the education world that demonstrates just a little of that.

    The single most frustrating statement in the article to me–was that learning (math) should be painful. Learning isn’t easy true, but should it be painful?

    The whole response is built on the student as recipient, not participant or producer, as Marco Torres’ would challenge us to think of them. Frustrating indeed.

  2. Stephen Ransom Says:

    My sentiments, as well. The public media seems to love this kind of story. What I find so personally tragic is that it (mis)confirms what so many who oppose technology’ use feel. And, of course, there is certainly some truth, as sad as it may be, to what is going on at this school and in schools across the country. I personally challenge the Washington Post to give fair coverage to these issues and report the immense joy, creativity, learning, productivity, ingenuity, satisfaction, engagment, success, and other such attributes that can come from powerful teaching and learning assisted by new learning tools.


  3. You wrote…

    “I love that. It brings a balance to the conversation about 21st century teaching – that good teaching must precede effective technology use.”

    This is profoundly wrong. Good teaching, like good art is inseparable from the culture in which it is created. What and how we teach has always been dominated by the technology of a specific age. Our classroom practice AND the curriculum is frozen in a pencil and paper world of spelling tests, multiplication tables and parabolas.

    It is the unimaginative nature of the ed tech community that has failed to produce compelling models of using computers in ways that inspire changes in practice and the organizations charged with advocacy are so concerned with checklists, cocktail parties and and sponsorship that they are constantly on the defensive rebutting pathetic critiques like the most recent one in the Washington Post.

    However, the truth is that what the school in the Post was attempting to do WAS awful, a waste of money and miseducative. Playing videos at kids and investing in overly complicated course management systems are Pre-Gutenberg pedagogical strategies. The school had more money than sense and now the rest of us are suffering for their sins.

  4. Stephen Ransom Says:

    @Gary… I certainly see your point, and agree to some degree. However, I have yet to see an ineffective teacher magically become effective with the addition of technological tool of our current culture. You imply that a teacher cannot be effective without using those tools. To that end, I disagree. I would agree that an effective teacher must responsibly embrace new cultural tools that further meaning making and make learning relevant and engaging. However, to tell the student who adored this teacher who did not use much technology at all that his teacher was awful denies his experience and voice in this issue. To equate spelling tests, multiplication tables, and parabolas with perhaps less-than-stellar teaching can work. But to equate it with ineffective teaching due to a failure to embrace new technologies is wrong, I think. Those same teachers will have their students complete crossword puzzles on-line, do multiplication tables on-line, and manipulate parabolas within a java environment with little real connection, application, and meaning. That’s what I meant. Do we need “to produce compelling models of using computers in ways that inspire changes in practice”? Absolutely. Are there “good” teachers out there not programming or embracing new technologies? I think so. Do I think that they should. Yes.


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