Teachers vs. Technology

As I listened to the Head of Technology enthusiastically talk about all the new Chromebooks, iPads and digital devices pouring into my daughter’s elementary school, I was disgusted. I’m not naive enough to think my daughter should have a technologically minimalistic upbringing like I did, but rather I had specific concerns like:

  • “Who is going to service all these devices when they break?”
  • “If the school is using free apps, will my child be watching ads?”
  • “If companies are giving away apps with no ads, they must be motioning if for marketing purposes, if not, what is the benefit of giving away free software to schools? A company would go out of business giving away free products. So what information are they taking away from the children while they are using the app?”
  • “Will the makers of these devices and apps have access to the microphones and cameras while the child is using the device? In the fine print, many apps access microphones and cameras unless you specifically tell it not to.”

Of course, these questions were stumpers. They were met with a blank stare. I didn’t get a good answer for any of them, just mental fumbling as these were all processed for the first time.

teacher and students

I don’t mind school administration working through the kinks to find answers to questions, but I do mind them not having sense enough to ask questions before pouring millions of taxpayer dollars into technology that they don’t know much about. Hats off to the sales person who sold my entire district on the concept that “Hey, we have tech now, that makes us look like a smarter school system! Good thing we didn’t spend these millions on paying teachers.” Or bus drivers for that matter. My district had millions to buy technology, but doesn’t have money to pay bus drivers, so some kids don’t get home until 6:00 at night because the one bus driver has to do a few loops back and forth to the school picking up batches of kids.

Instead of addressing my concerns,  I was told an inspirational story, about a history teacher who records all of his lessons, so that students can watch them during class, and while students are watching his videos, he can get other stuff done. So if students want to go back and watch it again to better understand something, they can. And he can use these same videos year after year.

“That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

I didn’t mean to say it. I planned on being polite, but there, it’s out there.

“How can the students ask questions? If the video neglected to properly explain something, how can watching it over again benefit the students? Also, if students are watching videos, they aren’t engaged in a human interaction, they are zoned out in a screen, not interacting. Isn’t human interaction part of the point of sending children to school? Otherwise they could just learn everything at home, online. Youtube has videos my daughter can watch, too.”

The technology wizard smiled excitedly realizing she had another talking point she hadn’t hit on yet, “Well, you’d be amazed, now that kids have iPads and Chromebooks, you walk in the classrooms and the children are quietly watching them and there aren’t as many disruptions by students, and the teachers are able to get other things done.”

This was the saddest thing I’ve ever watched. An intelligent person not thinking. I didn’t want to be combative but I felt compelled to challenge her thinking, “I know teachers get bogged down with paperwork, but aren’t teachers jobs to teach? What other things are they getting done that are more important than that? Also, I too have children and laptops and iPads, I love how quiet they are when they have access to these things, but I don’t pretend that these things are good for them, or that they are learning while doing them. I mean, what we are really teaching, other than that you should sit still, quiet, zone out and not ask questions? I give my kids iPads when I don’t want them to pester me with a million questions. I admit it. But questions are important, they are what separate a stagnant society from an innovative one. Throughout history, the great minds weren’t just people with book smarts, but rather they were people who asked questions, who were curious, and who continued to learn. Historically speaking,  people we consider geniuses weren’t just intelligent, but intelligent people who did something.”

(And from a keeping-it-real parenting perspective, if my child blows all her screen time at school, that means she doesn’t get any at home. Yikes! So, I’ll have to actually interact with her! Sheeze. And I won’t prattle on about how reading a screen is worse than reading on paper, both in terms of eye strain and information retention.)

Head of Tech had talking points, I had thinking points. If kids are watching videos instead of live teachers, what is the benefit of sending a child to school? They could just watch these from the safety of their home and not risk getting shot, bullied or fat eating sugar-laden canned cafeteria food. No buses, no commute to school. Then it dawned on me, maybe that is the school district’s plan. We do have access to free online schools.

Why would a school district pay for teacher’s salaries, their health insurance, their retirement, lawsuit insurance, etc. for twenty plus years, when they can just pay a one-time fee to have a video made? I mean, they then just need teachers for grading… oh wait, grading can be done electronically, too.

They have already cut PE teachers so my daughter now watches yoga videos. That is seriously considered “Physical Education.” A yoga video. Don’t get me wrong, I love yoga and think it is great for children, but again, not really physical, and not really education if there is no instructor. And art and music has been dramatically cut since I was a child. It’s just sad. I’m old-school about schooling, but I think education should have educators.

Other parents haven’t voiced their concerns about this “exciting new technology.” Maybe I was the first one to consider that the school district wasn’t doing us a favor, and may actually be prepping to start slashing more jobs in upcoming years.

People like to use the term blended learning to describe classrooms with digital devices and teachers. I like to refer to this as Phase 1. Once everyone is comfortable with technology in the classroom, it won’t be that much of a shock when the classroom is unblended and just has technology and no teacher.

Historically speaking, across all industries, when technology is embraced to do an actual job, the workforce is cut in subsequent years. I don’t mind people in education lacking vision, but it bothers me that they don’t have access to the historical perspective. And if you don’t know much about this topic, maybe read current trends on CNN Money or read about MIT’s thoughts on how technology is destroying jobs or read about it in UK’s The Telegraph. I would assume teachers and school districts would have access to terms like technological unemployment and access to The Atlantic. Or hear Larry Summer’s thoughts on it:

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 12.05.48 AM

And I hate to promote alarmist thinking from Business Insider that Robot Economy Could Cause Up to 75 Percent Unemployment Rate – to put that percent in perspective, at the height of the most recent recession, employment was around 10 percent.

I have to pay attention not just to trends and to history, but to, well, the general lack of respect for teacher’s wages to begin with. Fourth graders now make robots, so it’s not that big of a stretch to consider that companies are able to make considerably better ones.

There have always been concerns about the Low Pay in Education. It seems like each year, teachers make less and less than other industries. Now I see that it will eventually go from a low-paying job to a no-paying job.

In the battle of teachers vs. technology, tech is winning. Most states give teachers gradual increases each year, but not enough to keep up with inflation. Schools continue to spend a FORTUNE on technology, yet aren’t producing smarter students. According to Futuresource Consulting tech spending in k-12 schools worldwide was $13 BILLIOM. Okay, so a big boring number, but what is alarming is that MORE THAN HALF of the worldwide educational institution spending on mobile devices was in the US! And that number it is expected to hit $19 billion in the next 3 years.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 12.22.21 PM

Part of the reason the US ranks 24th in literacy is because students are no longer reading. They’re watching videos. And the reason the US tops the charts, #12 in obesity, is because kids are no longer moving. PE teachers have been cut from many schools or schools now share a PE teacher. (A side note: The only reason the US isn’t #1 in obesity is because of a few islands that don’t have the ability/space to grow much food, so they are held captive to fast food chains. It’s like Guantanemo for fat people.)

There are endless examples of jobs being squeezed out by technology. Cashiers were replaced by self-checkout in recent years and back in the early 1800’s, entire segments of the population were replace by the cotton gin. The difference in education is that teachers are embracing the technology that will make them redundant. I’m sure in the 1800’s farm workers weren’t saying, “Look at this! A cotton machine to do my job for me! That’s so exciting! … what’s that you say? Don’t show up for work tomorrow?”

The only people benefiting from all the technology in classrooms is the companies making the technology. It’s certainly not the teachers and definitely not the students.

I would be remiss not to point out the very obvious point that these devices that schools are buying will either be broken or obsolete within 5 years. Tech is a good investment if you are looking to buy stocks. Tech is good for tech companies. It’s not good for schools.

Teachers, don’t let a device into your classroom that will do your job for you, unless you want a device in your classroom that will eventually do your job for you.

And school districts, new buildings and new technology don’t make for better schools or smarter students. Teachers make for smarter students. When you reflect upon your own childhood, do you think about all technological advances or the electronic devices that you had access to that made a difference? No, you only remember the people that made a difference.  If you want to see your school soar, leave room in the classroom for teachers. Promote unblended learning.


Teacher and student

* This article was not written by a teacher or anyone within a school district or any affiliation with a school or district. Just a parent and concerned citizen who realizes that the marginally educated students of today will be in charge of tech support for my robotic doctor when I’m older. And that worries me.


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