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Coming In From The Light

Marc Prensky, writing in ASCD’s Educational Leadership, wants principals and teachers to know that their classrooms are dark places. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

His point is that, for most of our history, schools were pretty much the only intellectually bright spots in their lives, places they went to learn about the world outside of their immediate communities.

However, for many kids in the US, the world outside the classroom is much brighter.

There’s one big problem with this noble thought today: Today’s kids grow up in the light. They’re deeply immersed in it long before educators ever see them.

Kids today are connected to the entire world around the clock, in real time, through their media and their myriad personal devices, both electronic (such as TV) and digital (such as the Internet and cell phones). In the 21st century, young people certainly don’t grow up with perfect understanding of the world–after all, they are still kids. But can we still characterize their intellectual state as one of ignorance and darkness? Hardly.

So, most of our kids have some powerful tools for linking themselves to the world and they know how to use them. Or at least they do for personal and social use.

We could leverage those devices in the classroom and help them understand how to make them learning tools as well. In most schools, that’s not what happens.

But we’ve chosen something else. Somehow, schools have decided that all the light that surrounds kids–that is, their electronic connections to the world–is somehow detrimental to their education. So systematically, as kids enter our school buildings, we make them shut off all their connections. No cell phones. No music players. No game machines. No open Internet. When kids come to school, they leave behind the intellectual light of their everyday lives and walk into the darkness of the old-fashioned classroom. What are they allowed to use? Basal readers. Cursive handwriting. Old textbooks. Outdated equipment.

Not exactly bright concepts.

The one quibble I have with the article is Prensky’s side trip to the “boredom crisis”. I’m not sure it works since kids have always been bored with school, even when it was the “bright spot”.

He should have stuck with his argument that including all these portable communications devices kids carry will improve teaching and learning.

Anyway, Prensky ends with some suggestions for school administrators the best of which is “Annouce that henceforth students will have a meaningful voice in setting all school policy regarding technology use.”.

Excellent idea. But shouldn’t we have involved our kids in the determination of all parts of their educational structure, even back during those “dark ages”?

[Thanks to Darren for the link. Go read his take on the article.]

education, technology, prensky


  1. sylvia martinez

    Prensky has once again taken a metaphor way past its limit and mixed it with made-up history. And once again, he’s created an adversarial relationship between “adults who don’t get it” (boo… hiss) and “kids & the enlightened few adults” (us, of course).

    What kind of silliness is it to “announce” that students will have a voice. Let’s just say “throw down the gauntlet” instead.

    Real student voice emerges in a two-way collaboration between students and adults. It takes adults who care enough to listen to youth with respect AND provide guidance into the larger world. It’s not about patronizing youth for some imagined native intelligence based on chronological age.

  2. Dave

    Boredom in schools comes from knowing that that are more fun / productive things possible, but not being able to do them. Bringing into the classroom the ‘fun’ things from outside of school is a good way to keep student interest, but eventually, using old or new things in lame ways will get boring.

    I wish there was more exploration of teaching methods that give students more ability to self pace. Sometimes more consideration of different learning styles could help: some students need less lecture and more time for reading or hands-on.

    If I, as a student, learn well by reading the math book and doing the practice problems and can work through two lessons a day, of course I’m going to be bored when one lesson a day is lectured to me for an hour, and I’m going to be frustrated that I now have to do the practice problems at home. Or the other way — if I learn best through hands-on learning and quickly lose track of what’s going on when I’m being lectured to, of course I’m going to be bored — once I fall behind, it’s like the teacher is speaking jibberish.

  3. Betty

    Boredom in school also comes when teachers are instructed to follow the same lesson plan designs. An example of this is when we were required to use thinking maps with every lesson. I think I learned to dislike the maps as much as my students did.

  4. mlu

    There is light, and then there is light. I don’t find today’s students to be all that enlightened, though they are certainly plugged in. Indeed, at times they seem denizens of a new electronic dark age, hardly aware of civilization at all, barely articulate, preoccupied with the incessant buzz of triviality, and quite distracted by hedonistic impulses.

    Last year writing in Policy Review Peter Berkowitz, observed:

    Literature calls for calm, reflection, and the ability to be alone with oneself, but the telecommunications revolution, proceeding from telegraph and telephone through radio and film to TV, cassette tapes, video, CDs, DVDs, email, Internet, cell phones, instant messaging, and podcasting, enables us to surround ourselves with an endless flow of entertaining stimulation that serves as a buffer between us and our thoughts. Literature depends on the willingness to linger over a phrase, to luxuriate in an image, to peruse a passage again and again, but information-age inundation by the written and spoken word encourages gluttony for, rather than pleasure in, words.

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