Why-Fi?

Oct 24, 2019 by

Nothing hinders progress like keeping up with the times.  Sometimes the future fails to keep up with the past.

Chancellor Richard Carranza is “thrilled” that internet speeds are now 800 megabits per second in 1300 schools whose networks can now simultaneously handle 50 video streams.  By 2024, additional planned upgrades will have cost $1.4 billion over the previous decade.

Certainly we must move with the times, but who’s going to lead the way?

Students should have access to the latest high-tech gadgetry, but will it help them refresh the memory of how to put a sentence together, sustain an idea in a coherent paragraph, edit texts, research and select sources, prepare a bibliography, format footnotes and paraphrase direct quotations?

Investment in high-tech does not necessarily correlate with educational achievement.  The fruits of innovation do not by themselves make any educational difference. They do nothing to enhance students’ expressive skills or comprehension capacity. Neither they nor traditional tools are useful in a vacuum.  They must complement each other as means of instruction.

The presence of technology is only an aid to learning, not a prop for entertainment and short-cuts. It must be used to advance old-fashioned scholarship, not as gizmos for titillation.

Right now, most high school seniors don’t know that typing “Abraham Lincoln” into a search box, clicking “print”, and attaching a picturesque cover does not constitute a research paper.  Under pressure of principals, most teachers will play along, literally give it a “pass” as though it were a true research paper.

They thereby stay on students’ and parents’ good side while contributing to the mirage of academic standards reflected on the school’s date reports while enhancing their hopes of being found to be a “highly effective” instructor.  A two-fer.

The DOE is incentivized to make our schools shrines to technology because high-tech tools are ideal for perpetuating illusions of competence.  People tend to equate “state of the art” technology with academic excellence.

Many high-school students couldn’t survive the first round of a 1960s “spelling-bee”. Neither could many of the younger principals, though thanks to “spell check” they can compose a disciplinary letter without incriminating themselves.

Chancellor Carranza’s emphasis on robotics, Wi-Fi and career-readiness for students shows foresight, and he is sensible to keep schools current with the latest resources.  But technology is a means to an objective, not a substitute for it.  If it exists in a vacuum, then actual learning erodes in a school environment.

What good is it that students can become software wizards if they’ll need to channel the memories of their ancestors to know how to turn the page of a book?

Time to re-boot?

Ron Isaac

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