Saturday, February 27, 2016

Technology Manifesto

“What about technology?” The question comes up so often in workshops these days that
I’ve condensed my thinking into a manifesto of sorts. (© Doug Goodkin just in case it goes viral).

The right tool for the right job for the right reason at the right cost at the right age for the right amount of time with the right awareness of what it adds and what it takes away.

The right tool acknowledges that technology is a way of knowing through tools and we would be wise to find the one best suited for our goals. Not just figure out how to use what someone demands we use, but decide for ourselves which tool is most effective and efficient for our purposes. A xylophone is a technology as well as an i-Pad and can get more musical neurons firing than any slick pre-packaged music program with button clicks. As we now know, e-mail is a terrible technology for intelligent and communicative argument, but a fabulous tool to arrange and announce the workshop. Examples abound.

The right job is our vision of what we consider important, the cart that the horse pulls. Once we’re clear about that, then we can intelligently choose which horse to pick.

The right reason to use any technology is that the choices we’ve made will deepen our students’ understanding and get their neurons firing, their bodies engaged, their imagination percolating and their hearts excited.  Using computers just because the school bought them and needs to justify its purchase is not the right reason.

The right cost means factoring in the limited resources and budget of any school and deciding if the bang is big enough for the buck. But that cost is not just the price of the machine, but the expenses of upgrades, replacements required by planned obsolescence, increased security in the school building, electric bills and hiring people to maintain and fix the machines, train the students and staff.

The right age means educating ourselves about the developmental needs of young children and the damage using the wrong tools at the wrong times can cause. 14-year olds using an i-Pad for research is quite different from 4-year olds bonded to machines.

The right amount of time means taking into account the limited time we teachers have with children, the amount they need to follow nature’s developmental agenda, the amount they already spend in front of screens at home and after-school.

The right awareness means reflecting on how technologies change the body, change the brain, change culture. No technology is neutral. Each leans towards accenting certain human faculties and potentials and neglects others. Mostly people dismiss the question by casually saying, “it depends upon how you use it.” While the latter is true to some extent, the reality is much more complex. And if we are to use it consciously and not just reflexively, we will need some help. There is no training in the machine manuals that give you warnings (Danger: This technology has proven to be addictive!). There are no required classes before purchase to assist you in using appropriate restraint, for yourself and particularly for your children. Now there are camps for children that serve as rehab for electronic addiction, testaments of our failure to foresee the consequences ahead of time.

As for schools, I think it's time for experienced teachers to trust their knowledge of children, of their craft, of their field of interest and decide for themselves how much electronic technology to use and when and with whom and for how long without anyone mandating them or making them feel that they're not "21st century" if they don't go with the trend. How can we teach children to think critically and make wise choices if we ourselves are not doing so?

What would make sense is for each teacher to reflect on the points above and for each school to collectively consider them as springboards to further discussion. Do some research (consult me if you need a reading list) alongside personal reflection and actual observation as to how computers have already impacted the kids you teach. In a matter as delicate as children’s minds and bodies, we can’t afford to mindlessly invite machines in without due diligence and proper skepticism.

And particularly when the whole deal is tied to money. “Follow the money” is the first dictum of analysis as to how decisions get made and there are lots of people and corporations making lots of money from schools who know nothing about kids and education and may or may not even care. It’s not too late to just say "no, thank you" or "maybe, I'll think about it" or "yes, but…" to the wholesale acceptance of computers in schools. If this article can help move things in that direction, well, hooray for that.


  1. Good article! Those of us working in the public sector have no control over the technologies school districts buy...and in fact, some local districts are purchasing all online music curriculums, and I have observed some of the lessons when I watch student teachers. I am proud to say that the teachers who have had a lot of Orff training are much more skeptical about the programs. The technology is like the previous generation's textbooks. A textbook, or a xylophone, for that matter, is only as good as the passionate, creative teacher who knows how to use it!

  2. An anecdotal footnote...the building I work in has no internet access through a large screen, BUT all of our phones work! and our IPADs...the other day I was able to plug in speakers to my Android phone and get an authentic rendition of Cielito Lindo to play for a local holiday and a group of non music major college students were able to play along with it changing I and V chords. Not a highly advanced musical skill, but appropriate to the learners and the situation. I got this idea from a gifted student teacher who did this lesson with third graders who come to music once per week! You Tube has made accessible music from all over the world to EVERYONE with a CELL PHONE immediately.

    1. The availability of remarkable music and dance on Youtube is an excellent example of appropriate technology. Watching the Nicholas Brothers dance, Billie Holiday sing, Balinese kecak or a few hundred thousand stirring examples of authentic music-making is fabulous. Though all still need the educated teacher to guide the listening and viewing and offer cultural and musical context. The Cielito Lindo example you give, Sally, is fine, but seems to me they could sing the song while playing the changing chords and that would be more powerful. If they're not confident in singing, you can sing the song. Not wholly necessary to pull out the phone—though perhaps an okay supplement after having sung it.


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