Monday, January 26, 2015

The Pushers

Keep track of the amount of time it takes you to read this post. It should count as part of your screen time for the day. It should count against your daily allowance of one hour. You read that right: one hour. That is what pundits in the business of deciding how much of everything is good for us have decided is the duration of combined peering at screens each day. Of any size. This comes to us via a "healthy kids" initiative, but who really pays attention to that kind of stuff?
In a word: Teachers. When we get fliers or assemblies that tell our kids to eat five servings of fruit each day, we go out and find a basket of oranges to drag back to our room and hand them out. When the NFL tells us that kids need sixty minutes of exercise every day, we take them out on the playground and run them until they drop. Or they need to go to the bathroom. Or get a drink of water because they are DIE-ing. When we are told that kids should limit their screen time to one hour a day, we look at them and say, "What century are you speaking from?" I ask this from the twenty-first century, not just as a teacher, but as the Computer Teacher.
Every week, I sit kids down in front of screens for fifty minutes at a time. When they're finished in my room, that leaves them with ten minutes left on their allotment for the day. Then some other clever teacher sticks a tablet or a laptop in front of them and suddenly they are over the limit. How do they expect us to find clever ways to insert learning junk into kids heads without screens?
Okay, maybe I'm hyperbolizing just a little bit. What the powers that be would like is for there to a limit on the bad things that get into our kids' heads. Video games, for example. Not the ones we play in the computer lab, where we try to match the vowel sounds with the correct letter for which we are rewarded with a song about "Backpack bear," Sometimes they get to go up to a new level, which sounds exciting until the kids begin to figure out this is just another way to trick them into learning. "When do we get to the real games?" Sorry, we won't be playing Black Ops in school.
The good news is that elementary school kids, for the most part, are still fascinated by the variety of educational software I have to offer them. This is more a credit to them than to the very patient and creative folks who are designing fresh new ways to teach kids math facts and the alphabet by pointing and clicking. They know that the really cool graphics and achievables aren't going to be found in the computer lab. They're at home in their PS4 and XBox1. They're waiting me out while we continue to encourage them to go outside and play and read books. I know the standard third grader is spending way more than one hour in front of a screen every day. So is your standard computer teacher. But every so often, I get a win: Like when that kid stops me on the way out of my room and asks, "Mister Caven, how do I get to that typing web site at home?" I write down the web address, and tell him to ask him mother before he goes online. And to eat plenty of vegetables and read a book first.

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